The worst business clichés ever invented (and how to use them)

Our guide to understanding and utilising contemporary office jargon. FYI

Offices can be mystifying environments. While ostensible power structures may exist in theory, the reality is always different.

Unlikely people can wield huge amounts of power in offices. Moods can sweep through an office with devastating force.

In your office, someone somewhere is vying for a promotion. Elsewhere, someone is conniving to nick the entire client list for their own dastardly enterprise. Weird stuff is going on that you don’t understand, and amid it all you’ve still got to get your work done or risk your livelihood.

But as the sword of Damocles hangs over you, things are made insufferably worse by the fact that the people around you are talking like junkies stuffed full of psychoactive drugs.

How can you understand them? When Jamal from marketing is banging on about “running some decisioning software up the flagpole,” and Kirsty from HR says she “has already bagged all the low-hanging fruit,” where can the sane mind turn?

Evading the psychological snares of office speak requires a combination of full-scale cognitive dissonance and the neuroplasticity of a terrorist negotiator.

Without these vital weapons, it’s a slippery descent into the great wastepaper basket in the sky, as some cliché-using euphemism-deploying fudge-face might put it.

In a previous role, your correspondent was once personally informed that he was going to be “upskilled in order to work on multi-level layers”, when all it actually meant was moving desks. So we have a thorough understanding of the kinds of misshapen minds and horrible language we’re dealing with here.

Here is an essential guide to navigating the foaming seas of ordure that the contemporary office environment fosters.

Paradigm shift

The term “paradigm shift” is horribly overused, and nowhere is its use more hyperbolic than in the office. Used correctly, these two words should indicate a fundamental re-evaluation of all basic assumptions – like discovering that the Earth is spherical. That was a right old paradigm shift for scientists.

Deciding that Keith should now take responsibility for ordering ink for the printer, or changing the font of the logo on your website, is not a paradigm shift.

In business, a paradigm shift is a complete revolution in how you work – i.e. things will never be the same again.

How to use it properly: “Now that Donald has retired, we are free to take the business in a new direction. Instead of selling meat as we have done for generations, we are undergoing a paradigm shift to become a corporate events management agency.”

Alternative usage: “That baked potato was the size of a watermelon. I’m just nipping off for a paradigm shift. Don’t expect me to make the 3 o’clock meeting.”

ROI

Business twaddlers love an acronym. They speed things up, can cause confusion and most importantly, sound clever. Except it’s not clever. ROI just means “return on investment”, and is a very simple concept. This one is particularly irksome. Its use in the workplace usually denotes the user’s desire to be seen as someone who is financially astute, even if they are plainly innumerate. 

Unfortunately, everything we do can now be measured in some degree by ROI. What’s the ROI in sending this email? What’s the ROI of building this runway? What’s the ROI for the journalist writing this article?

How to use it properly: “If I used all my wealth and bought up all the oil in the world and sold it at $250 a barrel, what would be the ROI, do you think, Phil?”

Alternative usage: “I got a questionable ROI from that bottle of scotch last night. Woke up this morning in bed with Phil.”

Going forward

Here’s a helpful mental aid: When people say “going forward”, just imagine that they are little locomotive humans chugging their arms like train pistons and pulling little carriages behind them as they choo-choo round the meeting room. Now you’re on their level.

What’s wrong with saying “next week”, or “in future”, or “as time goes on”? Nothing at all.

How to use it properly: “Dad, look out, the car is going forward.”

Alternative usage: You can’t even mess around with this term. It’s literally all about frontward motion.

FYI

“Eff why aye”, is how this irritating acronym is pronounced. It stands for “for your information”, which in itself is a passive-aggressive method of delivering information.

It has the same number of syllables (three) as using the alternative “so you know”, but the silliest thing of all is that, if the information you’re about to impart is useful or interesting, then it doesn’t need a natty acronym to qualify its imminent delivery. Just bloody say it.

How to use it properly: “FYI, the business is doomed, so you’re all fired and FYI, the building is on fire and FYI the fire escape fell off. FYI, Daddy didn’t love me.”

Alternative usage: After someone uses it, turn on a Geordie accent and shout: “Eff Why-Aye! That’s totally mint condition!”

Let’s take this offline

These days people only go offline when there’s been a power cut, or because they’ve been so damaged by unfettered access to wi-fi that they’ve had to go on a countryside retreat.

However, “going offline” is fast becoming stupid office jargon that has nothing to do with any of that. Instead, when someone interrupts you and says “yo buddy, let’s take this offline,” it means “shut-up d*ckhead, let’s talk about this in private”.

The most interesting aspect of the expression is that it gives credence to the idea that, in the public consciousness, the internet is a fundamentally public environment.

But if you’re just talking to someone face-to-face in the same room, then you are already offline. In which case it’s redundant, and in which case, it is fair to say the user is a jargon-using twerp.

How to use it properly: “Oh no! Since we fired him, Sam has filled the company webpage with uncouth images and expletives. Let’s take this offline, fix it, and then put it back online again.”

Alternative usage: Flirtatiously: “Let’s take this offline baby. Ooh yeah,” etc.

We don’t have the bandwidth

This example demonstrates how using any modern technological term with enough confidence can mean it ends up as a ludicrous office cliché.

Using this essentially means “we can’t”, or “I won’t”, because there’s not enough money/people/interest. You can achieve similar levels of absurdity by substituting other technological terms. For example: “Nope. We haven’t got the gigabytes,” or, “we can’t do that, we don’t have the oscillation frequency.”

How to use it properly: “We can’t stream this HD video right now. We haven’t got the bandwidth.”

Alternative usage: “Let’s be honest, Derek doesn’t have the bandwidth to deal with Microsoft Paint, let alone an important client.”  

Right-sizing

This is fast becoming a bog-standard euphemism to deploy when companies are about to cull their workforces. Managers could simply admit that they’re going on a firing spree because the firm’s going down the tubes, or even that one particular individual is being fired because they smell like a ferret farm.

But managers use this despotic term as though they are carpenters measuring your house for new cabinets. Just instead of new cupboards, you actually have to clear your desk.

How to use it properly: You can’t use this one properly. You can’t size someone, or have spent a busy day sizing, let alone right-sizing.

If you must: “It’s become apparent that we’ve been wrong-sizing for months now. So we’re going to do some right-sizing to fix that. You’re all fired.”

Boots on the ground

Boots on the ground army navy military

This is military speak for sending troops into a war zone, possibly to kill people. So using this in the office is utterly beyond mockery. However, it’s entered office parlance as a term vaguely meaning “resources”.

Some may think that using it makes them sound tough, like an army colonel, but of course, it serves only to prove how self-important and out of touch with reality they are.

How to use it properly: “Hello, this is the US Secretary for Defense. Yes, we spell ‘defence’ with an ‘s’ over here. If you’ve got a problem with that then there’s going to be boots on the ground, so zip it, Britain.”

Alternative usage: “If you haven’t got us a sale in the next three days, then there’s going to be boots on the ground marching in your direction. There’s an Orwellian nightmare brewing and I’ll be sending it your way, boy.”

Anything about reinventing the wheel

This is such a hackneyed phrase, that its use effectively serves as a screaming siren with fluorescent arrows pointing at the user that might as well read: “Dunce”.

How to use it properly: Only this guy (who has come up with a fundamentally new type of wheel), can legitimately get away with it.

Alternative usage: Just use it for any remotely new or updated idea. “I put a tomato on my cheese on toast. I have literally reinvented the wheel.”

Close of play

Is this cockney rhyming slang? “Close of play” rhymes with “end of the day”. Sports analogies are always a poor starting place for anything. Let’s hit this one out of the park now, or else there’s going to be red cards all round.

Low-hanging fruit

Fruit low hanging fruit

This means achieving easy stuff. But for some reason it conjures an image of old testicles. Let’s put this one in the compost bin.

How to use it properly: “Hmm, look at all that low-hanging fruit in the orchard. Even the small children can reach it.”

Alternative usage: “Now listen to me, you low-hanging fruit. Get back on the phone, and get me some bloody orders.”

Run it up the flagpole

“I think that’s a great idea, but let’s just run it up the flagpole and see how people respond to it.” What flagpole? This invented madness brings to mind some kind of eager-to-please monarch, who’ll fly any old flag as a means of testing their subjects’ tastes.

It may surprise these would-be kings and queens that people aren’t as excited by flags as they once were.

How to use it properly: “Ooh, look Elizabeth, a new flag. Isn’t it thrilling!” “Shut it Charlie, and just run it up the flagpole.”

Alternative usage: Use your own filthy imagination.

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