How to become a Jargonaut

August 25, 2011

I recently asked an American client of mine (politely!) why she didn’t do a particularly routine  editing job herself – I couldn’t believe the company would pay me to perform this every month when it could so easily be handled in-house.  She replied “I don’t have the bandwidth.”  Bandwidth?  Not wishing to appear ignorant I didn’t query the expression – I figured it was office-speak for “I’m too damn busy!”

Sharing this story with friends and colleagues I soon realised I was hopelessly out of touch with current corporate-speak – not good when you work with words.

So, I’ve been doing some linguistic trawling and thought I would share with you some of the more colourful phrases I’ve managed to scoop up.  Drop these terms or phrases into your corporate conversations to demonstrate you are not an Ignoranus (one who is stupid, and an a**hole) or Dinosaur (an older worker).

Shoot the puppy.   “To take an unpopular action” – as in “We have to downsize the department, but I don’t want to be the one to shoot the puppy.”

Jump the shark.  This means to lose your edge – from an episode of Happy Days, in which Henry Winkler’s character, the Fonz, jumps over a shark while waterskiing. This was considered the beginning of the end for the series.

Kicking dead whales down the beach.  This means “to perform a deeply unpleasant, seemingly endless, but often essential task”

Sheep it.  This means “to follow a ridiculous company policy without complaint”.

Pilot fish.  A junior level manager that closely tails a senior executive

Percussive maintenance.  The common practice of “fixing” a piece of equipment by slapping it repeatedly (see above, wham bam, thank you ma’am).

Not the long pole in my tent.  This denotes something of low importance.

Al Desco.  Describes any meal consumed at your desk.  (See photograph above – mmm, looks goood!)

Carpool tunnel syndrome.  The semi-conscious state that is the result of repeated early morning ride sharing.

Boiling the frog.  Making unpleasant changes so slowly that nobody notices.

Deja moo. The nagging feeling you’ve heard this BS before

Putting socks on an octopus.  To attempt the impossible.

Vanillacide.  This refers to the process by which a radical concept is destroyed by too much consultation.

Slave trader.  Affectionate term for anyone in HR

Muppet Shuffle.  This refers to the process of shifting under-performing employees to other unsuspecting departments.

Pig in a python.  Slow moving.

Bangalored.  Fired because your job has been outsouced to India (see happy people in Bangalore, above)

Can I stir fry an idea in your think wok?  I’d welcome your opinion

Hippo.  Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. The deciding factor in workplace arguments. “What can we do to get HIPPO buy-in on this layout?”

Rub my rhubarb.  To be irritated in a particularly annoying or painful way. “These whiny new interns are really starting to rub my rhubarb.”

Capsizing.  Laying off employees (downsizing) to the point that the organisation can no longer function.

Wow factor.  That special something that the client keeps demanding, but can never quite articulate.

Rocks in the backpack.  The individual responsibilities that make up a person’s total workload, as in “Can’t help you.  I’ve got enough rocks in my backpack.”

That’s enough for now – you, and I, need to do some real work.  In other words we need to Stick to the knitting (focus on one’s main areas of business).

If you’ve got any phrases that really float your boat, or rub your rhubarb, please use the comment box to run them up the flagpole.

  1. Caroline J August 25, 2011 Reply

    Ah well, I don't have any phrases to add to this as I haven't been around too many corporate conversations now for a while. So I guess I'm just a dinosaur and/or an ignoramus! Ah well.....

    • Jim August 29, 2011 Reply

      Hi Caroline,

      I don't think you have been missing much. I drive through Bristol and look at the huge office buildings full of insurance/finance companies and think how soul destroying it must be to work as a cubicle monkey in such an environment. The language is more colourful than the jobs....

      All the best and thanks for following,


  2. mark mapstone August 27, 2011 Reply

    Great list Jim. thanks for mentioning it last night.

    similarly to this, I've noticed how our modern digital lifestyles have started to blur, both in language and actions. For example I asked a friend to 'delete' the yellow post-it notes on my desk and occasionally I find myself trying to 'blip' my house front door open with my car keyfob. I'm sure there's many more.

    There's a bar in Bath called Fubar - which is the acronym for 'f**ked up beyond all recognition' - it's nice to see office language spilling out in the streets... it always makes me laugh.

    Keep up the good work - Mark

    • Jim August 29, 2011 Reply

      Hi Mark,
      Yes, I am fascinated by colourful office-speak too. Fubar sounds great (the bar, not the situation!)

      Thanks for following and encouraging,


  3. Rob August 30, 2011 Reply

    Jim, your tweets and posts make me laugh. 'Going forward', as an American client says, I'm going to tell people I'm stir frying an idea in my think wok.

    • Jim August 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Rob,
      glad you are enjoying...good luck with the stir frying!

  4. Andy August 31, 2011 Reply

    A few years ago, the company I worked for was bought by a large US-based conglomerate and, after an introductory telephone discussion with my counterpart in the States, I received an email from him stating how excited he was to think of all the "marketecture synergies we could leverage."

    I've found this kind of gobbledygook is more prevalent in the USA - perhaps the British capacity to detect a bullshitter is more finely honed. Let's face it, anyone in a UK office heard asking a colleague if they could "stir fry an idea in the think wok" would either be laughed out of the building or pushed down the nearest staircase.

    That said, I have seen a number of Americanisms creeping into marketing communications in this country - my current bete noire is "monetize". (Ughhh......I actually felt slightly ill just typing that.)

    • Jim August 31, 2011 Reply

      Hi Andy,, I must find some way to use that, going forward! And you are right about monetize, it is a weird word...

  5. Martyn September 2, 2011 Reply

    A few years ago while travelling to a meeting bet me I couldn't get the word "Cinderella" into the conversation. Within three minutes of exchanging business cards I found myself dropping in the phrase "Cinderella scenario". I'm not sure in what context I used the phrase, if I'd even heard it before, or if I'd invented it but I do remember the client nodding sagely and agreeing.

    Thought I'd just pop that one into the icing bag and run it around the cake.

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