25 Corporate Jargon Phrases You Either Love or Hate

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Almost every industry has its own language, from actors talking about fellow ‘turns’ to the police talking about trying to track down ‘mispers.’ However, if there’s one world that seems to have a buzzword or hackneyed turn of phrase for virtually anything you can think of, it’s the wacky world of corporate business. While there are plenty of terms that the rest of the population doesn’t understand, plenty of them have become cliched enough that they’ve leaked into the public’s vocabulary. Whether you work in the corporate field or not, there are sure to be some that you love and some that you loathe. However, before we get to the main offenders, have you ever wondered why corporate jargon exists in the first place? Let’s look under the bonnet and get a helicopter view.


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Where did office jargon come from?

While you might think that corporate buzzwords came out of a need to discuss situations that don’t take place in the ‘real’ world, you’d be mistaken. If you’re looking for the origins of corporate jargon, you need to trace things back to 1930s America. This was the time of what’s become known as ‘The Great Depression,’ a time of severe economic recession that quickly spread across the globe.

While all roads responsible for the Great Depression lead steadily back to the Wall Street Crash of 1929, there are some other factors involved. The one that concerns us is the tense relationship between management and their frontline workers. At that time, the focus was on increased efficiency, improved productivity and, above all, profits. As a result, many workers found themselves being treated more like machines than human beings. The Great Depression has been seen by many as an indirect result of the breakdown in communication between those at the top and those at ground level.


An attempt at communication?

Fast forward to the end of World War II. At this point, as the economies across the world were starting to put themselves back together, the corporate world saw the formation of conglomerates. In essence, larger companies merged with and took over smaller companies, sometimes as apparently random acquisitions. While this helped the conglomerates to diversify, it also failed to create any sense of unity between the workers and their employees. With the whiff of disgruntlement starting to get stronger, management decided that something needed to be done.

Corporate jargon was born out of a need for management to engage with their workers and create a sense of shared identity. The American newspaper, The Atlantic, suggests it wasn’t just about creating a more communicative working environment. They suggest that managers were thinking along the lines of “how can I maximise profits by creating a certain emotional atmosphere at my company?” The answer was simple: create a language within each industry, and you’ll establish the identity and sense of connection that, up until that point, had been lacking.


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Love it or hate it, corporate lingo is here to stay, and you can either fight against it or go with the flow. If you’ve yet to unleash your inner David Brent, or you want a few quickfire retorts and analogies under your belt, then here’s our list of the top 25 office jargon phrases that’ll either fill the room or empty it.


The top 25 corporate lingo phrases and buzzwords to love or loathe

Low-hanging fruit. If you’re guilty of using this one, then the only thing that should be hanging is your head under the weight of the shame you should be feeling! Low-hanging fruit is office jargon for a goal or objective that’s easily achievable. However, it can also be used to describe those who are vulnerable in corporate situations, such as employees who may have made themselves likely candidates for redundancy, possibly without realising it.

Idea shower. Back in 1953, a CEO named Alex Osborn coined the phrase ‘brainstorming.’ He used this to get his colleagues and workers to embrace a more tangential way of thinking and develop more creative solutions to business problems. For some reason (maybe due to the rise in water rates?), the much-loved brainstorm has become the ‘idea shower.’


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Getting all your ducks in a row. There are various theories about where this jaw-clenching cliché originated, from how ducks swim to funfair games and something to do with bowling or shipbuilding. In essence, it’s corporate jargon for getting organised. Unless you’re a duck farmer, in which case it might be a practical instruction. Maybe not.

Touching base offline. Surely there are easier ways to say, “let’s meet face to face?” This has all the hallmarks of something that Bob Mortimer’s Train Guy might come up with while sipping on his ‘cappa choo-choo.’

360° thinking. This is used by those with too many words to use and not enough to say to suggest that a problem, idea, or concept should be examined from all angles.

Not enough bandwidth. If you ask someone to take on an extra task or piece of work and they reply that they don’t have enough bandwidth, it means they’re too busy to deal with it. Either that or you may have exposed them as a robot of some description.


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The strategic staircase. Translating from corporate jargon, this is a way of describing something akin to a business plan. If you’re asked to take the strategic staircase, you’re being asked to follow that plan step-by-step. It might also be worth looking for the escalator of escape to get away from whoever has just tarnished your ears with this brain-draining phrase.

Put on a record and see who dances. While this might sound like an instruction to an inexperienced wedding DJ, it’s actually a long-winded way of suggesting that you try something out. One of the most hated examples of office slang, it indicates that, if those words have ever come out of your mouth, you’ve probably done David Brent’s ‘The Office Dance’ without any sense of irony whatsoever.

Don’t let the grass grow too long on this one. This is a particularly irritating way of being asked to get something done quickly. If you can find an equally annoying yet polite way of suggesting they do it themselves, do let us know. Alternatively, you could claim not to have enough bandwidth.

Cascading the relevant information. All this means is speaking to other colleagues and filling them in on what they need to know. If this overly flamboyant corporate jargon doesn’t send your blood pressure skyrocketing, then you’re made of stern stuff. Or simply broken.


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Run it up the flagpole. In the corporate lingo thesaurus, this means the same as putting on a record to see who dances. If you’ve ever used either of these, it’s probably time for a long, hard think about your life choices.

End of play. This can also be used in emails as ‘EOP,’ meaning ‘by the end of the day.’ It tends to be used by those who may have had an aspiration to be a professional footballer or anyone who might’ve considered a career in showbiz. At least, that’s how it sounds.

Double-click. Even the humble computer mouse has found its way into the world of corporate buzzwords. However, this tired old warhorse of office terminology has nothing to do with mice. Instead, it’s a way of emphasising increased attention to something. A toe-curling example might be, “I’m going to explain something important to you, so I really need you to double-click on it.” Unfortunately, the only clicking likely to be going on is the sound of jaw muscles as your teeth grind together.

110%. In the corporate world, you must be committed 110%, give 110%, and even look 110%. Of all the corporate buzzwords, this one has the most flexibility in that the percentage can change according to the urgency or importance of the situation at hand. If used too often, there’s a 100% chance of irritation. Not 500%. Not 110%. 100 and no more.


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Capture your colleagues. It’s no secret that reality TV shows have become more and more extreme as the years have gone by. If no-one’s thought about pitching this to ITV, we might patent the concept. However, this piece of office slang is merely used to suggest you arrange a meeting with the relevant people. If you choose to feed them insects or fish eyes, that’s entirely up to you.

We have decided to pivot. This one wouldn’t be out of place in a government spin doctor’s notebook. What it sounds like it means is that there’s been a calculated change in direction. What it really means is that someone, somewhere, has made a mistake. One that doesn’t bear owning up to.

No-brainer. We’ve all heard this one and, at that moment, all wished we were somewhere else. Anywhere. A no-brainer is a decision that’s so simple that it really doesn’t require any brain cells at all. Neither does saying it, but it still happens.

Thought leadership. Anyone who claims to demonstrate thought leadership is a no-brainer in the first place. Translated into the English that the rest of us speak, thought leadership means to be an authority or expert in your field.


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Ideation. There tends to be a lot of this in marketing departments, which have almost developed their brand of corporate jargon. Ideation is much the same as taking an idea shower or being part of a brainstorming session. A good ideation would be not to use it at all.

Circle back. If you ask someone to do something for you or research something, and they reply that they’ll ‘circle back’ to you, follow a straight line out of the nearest available exit as fast as possible. Essentially, it’s an infuriating way of saying that you’ll get back to someone or let them know or give them the answer later or anything except circling back.

Blue sky thinking. See idea showers, brainstorming, ideation, and any other mind-numbing term that has anything to do with creative thinking.

Learnings. This is one of the most peculiar examples of office jargon. Not only because it’s grammatically incorrect but because it’s got a primary school ring to it. Translated into big person speak, it means something like ‘key lessons.’ As an example, someone might ask you what learnings you took away from a presentation. One of the learnings they obviously haven’t managed to get a grip on is a basic command of the English language.


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Delivery pipeline. The delivery pipeline is used in office slang to describe the final parts of the process for any given project. It’s where all the ideas, concepts, and work start to come together. Unfortunately, it also sounds like something to do with plumbing and toilets. The end results of a delivery pipeline are known as deliverables. Unfortunately, these have the same sort of ring to them.

Deliverables. See above. If midwives aren’t using this term in reference to babies, then there’s something wrong with the world.

Touch base. One of the first and one of the best/worst, depending on how you look at it. As you might’ve guessed, touching base has its roots in American baseball. To score points, players need to make a run to a ‘base’ after hitting a ball with a stick. There are plenty of corporate buzzwords and corporate jargon phrases that have been gifted to us from across The Pond. Isn’t it about time we came up with a few of our own and returned the favour?


Corporate lingo from around the world

If you needed any proof that corporate lingo is a worldwide phenomenon, here are four from other countries. If you’re brave enough, try introducing them into your office or workplace.

  • Sliding in on a shrimp sandwich. Hailing from Sweden, this means that someone is currently having a leisurely day of it. Used in the UK, it might mean there’s a terrible canteen accident in progress.
  • Now it’s about the sausage. The UK equivalent would be something along the lines of the delivery pipeline. Trust the Germans to have tastier office vocabulary than we do.
  • He cooked the fish on his lips. A Greek example of office jargon, this translates as someone who has just made life difficult for themselves.
  • A fair suck of the sauce bottle. Coined by our Australian cousins, this means wanting to be treated the same way as everyone else. Although why it’s a sauce bottle and not a ‘stubby’ is anyone’s guess.

Delightful or despicable, office jargon is part and parcel of any corporate setup. If you’ve got any others that really get your goat, twist your melon, or grind your gears let us know!

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