How Corporate America Assaults the English Language Jayne Bodell

How Corporate America Assaults the English Language


By Jayne Bodell 

04/24/2018


Jargon Madness

A couple of years ago, Forbes Magazine ran an article called, “Jargon Madness.” Corporate words or phrases were put into brackets like the NCAA basketball tournament. I found it a clever idea and wished that I knew about it then so I could have voted. Having worked in corporate America for too long, I have cringed, winced, and uttered, “What the hell does that mean?”, way too often when reading my daily emails.

 

According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of corporatese is the following: “A manner of speaking that uses the most amount of words to give the least amount of information. Most often used by upper management when not wanting to, or being able to, give a direct answer.” For any writer, corporatese assaults the ears and can lead to apoplectic fits that a cubicle is unable to contain.

 

The phrase going forward entered my world about 20 years ago. At the time, I thought what a funny phrase to use. Management was referring to a process that was changing, and I thought, it’s impossible to go backward in time, so why make this distinction. It was an awkward way of saying, “our new process is…” And so began my introduction to how the corporate world speaks.

 

Welcome to my world. Below, I give you some of the most current corporate speak words and phrases. If you are able to make it all the way through the list without cringing or developing a tick, I commend you.

 

Examples of corporatese: 

1. Cascade down. If you receive an email with this phrase, reach for a towel. You’re either going to get wet or get more information. Upper management really likes this phrase. It means that you should tell, pass along, or disseminate the information to your team. When I hear this, I wonder if a box of dishwashing detergent will be included. I usually get at least one email a week with this phrase.

 

2. Out-of-pocket. The people who tell you this, are usually the people you don’t care if they’re going to be out of town. My co-workers heard a burst of laughter coming from my home office the first time I read this. After a quick eye roll, a “who cares” and a quick delete, I was left praying that I never hear that phrase again. Only twenty-somethings utter this phrase to sound hip, I’m sure.

 

Anyone over 40 who uses this phrase should be escorted out of his cubicle and delegated to a permanent out-of-pocket status.

Just say you can’t be reached. You’re not that important. And, I wasn’t going to ping (see #3) you anyway.

 

3. Ping. If I ping you, will you pong me? Sounds like HR might have to get involved if that exchange ever happens. It’s not cool enough to say, “call or contact me.” You now have to ping me. If someone says that to me and is within reach, I’ll snap him on the forward and say, “Consider yourself pinged.”

 

4. High-level. I recently received an email explaining that we would discuss a subject at a high level. Did this mean we were meeting on the tenth floor? I wanted to write back that I wouldn’t be attending because I was afraid of heights. Apparently, this means that we’d be discussing generalities or the 30,000-foot view, not the deep dive (see #5).

 

5. Deep-dive. You can no longer have a meeting, report, or training that digs deep to explore details. That is waaaaay too boring. Now you have a deep-dive meeting.

 

6. Diarize. When you have a meeting, someone must volunteer to diarize. Yes folks, that means to take notes. I guess that taking notes is such a menial job that we had to make the note taker sound more important. Said note taker probably complained to HR about having self-esteem issues.

 

7. Headcount. You are no longer a person, so get used to. Management loves to say that they have enough headcounts so everyone should be able to get their work done without any overtime. I have received an email where I was referred to as a headcount. I might have to talk to HR about my self-esteem being crushed. I’m a real person, not just a head, dammit!

8. Disambiguate. Let’s make up a five-syllable word for another way to say clarify. You have to love the irony.

 

9. Value-add. Rule one of corporatese is learning to take verbs or verb phrases and turn them into nouns. A value-add means you’re adding value.

 

10. Cubicle vulture. Here’s one I like and will use. It’s creative and describes the problem. This is the person who gathers office supplies from a co-worker who has left the company.

I’ve experienced this where I work, so I know first-hand the problem exists. Now, I have a name for it.

Cubicle vulture. It’s creative and describes the problem. This is the person who gathers office supplies from a co-worker who has left the company. I’ve experienced this, so I know the problem exists. Now, I have a name for it. Click To Tweet

 

11. Bucketize. If you’ve ever been in a meeting with lots of ideas floating around that need organizing, you need to bucketize by putting them into logical groups.

 

The corporate world abuses our English language on a daily basis, and this is a small sampling of what you’ll be exposed to when working in corporate America. As long as management is allowed to write its own emails with no one policing the language abuse, the problem will grow and spread. It will be a plague that jumps from one business tower to the next, across open plains, over mountains, infesting emails boxes like a computer virus that not even the best software engineers will be able to destroy!!! Sorry, I got a little carried away.

Well, you made it to the end. How do you feel? Enlightened? Twitchy? Informed? Now it’s your turn. What’s your favorite corporatese word or phrase?


Monthly Contributor:  Jayne Bodell


Jayne Bodell graduated from UW-Madison with an English degree many, many years ago. About two years ago, she renewed her interest in writing by starting a blog about grammar but soon realized that she wanted to expand her subject matter. She now blogs about keeping life simple, smart, and sassy at www.JayneBodell.com. In between blog posts, she’s planning to branch into the scary world of writing fiction by writing a collection of flash fiction stories.
Jayne lives in Wisconsin and fills her spare time with gardening, photography, knitting, reading, and a side of coloring. Her favorite way to vacation is to pick a general destination and drive, no time constraints and no plans.

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23 comments

  1. Jayne,
    I haven’t worked in corporate but I have worked in education and we have our own list of phrases. Best practices…as if I would use worst practices in my classroom! Data driven, learning communities, assessment teams…the list could go on forever and it changes every year. This was a fun post. Thanks.

  2. Jane, I not only made it to the end, but was laughing all the way!
    It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in Corporate America. But it seems like not much has changed. Long before daily emails, we had daily memos. Much of the language was the same, although I did spot a few new expressions in your post. A couple of my (least) favorites were “It has come to our attention” and “profit shares this quarter are down.” The first phrase always made me wonder just HOW something had come to their attention. In other words, who snitched?? And the second one, we all knew meant, “If y’all don’t work harder, you won’t be getting a Christmas Bonus this year!
    Except for the daily interaction with co-workers and clients, and of course the (possible) yearly Christmas Bonus, your post has given me yet another reason to be happy I now work for myself!
    Lol!

  3. Well, I am part of one such culture and there are people at top (High position- technical and managerial folks) who can’t do without headcount, deep-dive, cascade down.
    This article of yours makes me laugh, and is an eye opener for me as well.
    And please, don’t fail my comment in your review 🙂

    • I can’t wait to write that email on the last day asking them to prepare for my offboarding because I can no longer contribute a value-add and inform the cubicle vultures to prepare for my out of pocket status. Thanks for reading.

  4. Oh, that’s the worst when you have a someone younger trying to manage you. Been there, still doing that. And she called me a headcount yesterday. Thank God, I work from home and I could go to my safe space. 🙂

  5. Jayne, Corporate America is not much different than Skilled trades America. This one gets under my skin. When the boss says, “ how many BODIES do you need?” “Five, preferably with heads so they can think,” I would say.

    Appreciate this story.

  6. Hi, Jayne. Laughed and enjoyed. I’d love your take on:

    At the end of the day…
    Felix will take the lead on this
    We need a Best Practices program
    As we speak
    Truth be told
    Strategic fit
    and my all time favorite: negative growth – can’t begin to tell you how that one irritates me. I get it, losing money doesn’t sound good, puts fear in the hearts of the employees, but bottom line (another one), that’s what it amounts to and yes, your job is in jeopardy.

    Okay, rant over, but your post just sparked a brain cell or two that I haven’t used in years. My company downsized and got lean and mean and my services were no longer needed. The bad part, I fired myself.

    Consider yourself pinged and we know what you need to do.

      • Hi, Ptrikha15. Let’s see if I can get this straight.

        At the End of the Day (EOD), I’ll give an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) for hand holding, located at the End of the Message (EOM)

        And as we all know, hand holding provides that much needed strategic fit.

        How’d I do? She smiles. (SS)

        • That’s great Marilyn – just one thing we call EOB here for “End of Business” (akin to EOD).
          And many of us in India who work in Indian units of American Cos or even some Big Indian Cos(specially in Banking/IT) have also adopted American corporate terminologies- sometimes a bit too much.

  7. I really enjoyed your wit in this one, Jayne. Cubical vultures made me spit my coffee out. This whole piece was filled with several plots for potential Seinfeld episodes. Again, great little post.

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