Avoid These Office Buzzwords

Last Updated Sep 7, 2010 12:58 PM EDT

Last year about this time, I posted a list (plus definitions and correct usage) of the office clichés least loved by a random sampling of executives polled by Accountemps. You may -- like me -- be too snobby and old-fashioned to want to sling the lingo, but you've got to know it or run the risk that your peers and superiors deem you hopelessly out of the loop. (Oops, there's a tired office phrase if there ever was one!) That's why I have made it my personal mission to keep you up to date.

Alas and alack, Accountemps conducts its jargon survey only once every five years. However, the company put me in touch with Brett Good, senior district president of its corporate parent Robert Half International, the global staffing firm. In the course of his work, Good is privy to bujillions of resumés where many of us festoon our mundane jobs and meager accomplishments with business gobbledygook to make them sound more important -- or less unimportant. "New expressions are springing up all the time," says Good, though some, he admits, like "out of the box" won't go back in the box no matter what. He supplied several current buzz phrases, and so did some CBS MoneyWatch cubicle denizens who have kept their ears glued to partition walls for their colleagues' most hackneyed utterances. Herewith their findings (with my own definitions and attempts at usage):
In transition. A change from one state of being to another; recession variation: collecting unemployment compensation. Example: "Since the downsizing, I've been in transition." Synonym: doing some consulting.
Brand. Put a good face on. Example: "Okay, so we polluted the groundwater by failing to follow those finicky safety regulations. How should we brand it?"
Space. Industry or field. Example: "I'm in the manufacturing space," "I'm in the waste disposal space," "She's in the adult film space," or "He's in the space exploration space."
Go offline. Pester me about this after the meeting -- or preferably never. "Jones, could we go offline to discuss the $10 underpayment of your expense account reimbursement?"
End of the day. Formerly 5 to 5:30 p.m., now defined as an uncertain point in the future when everything magically turns out okay. Example. "At the end of the day, the pollution in the groundwater may just drain into the earth's core and become unnoticeable."
Transparent. Open about the facts, but not to be confused with honest. Example: "We've been totally transparent about the 15% fee; we disclosed it on page 37."
Can't Wrap One's Head Around. Unwilling to get into the details or deal with the facts; intellectually lazy. Example: "I can't wrap my head around all this recycling business; Let's throw everything in the dumpster behind Home Depot and let them deal with it."
Bandwidth. Money, staff, computing capacity or other resources. Example: "She lacks the bandwidth to compute compound interest."
KPI (Key Performance Indicators) Important measurements, usually of the immeasurable. Example: "The American Psychological Association recently established KPIs for marriage: the weekly incidence of sexual intercourse plus the number of hours spent watching the same TV shows, minus total minutes bickering over the proper loading of the dishwasher."
Low-hanging fruit. Easy to get, though in the end, often not worth the effort. Example: The Taliban might be low-hanging fruit for our production overrun of beard combs."
Human Capital. Human Resources, previously Personnel. Example: "Human Capital is on the fifth floor."
Skill set or Fit. Qualifications, generally modified by the words "wrong" or "bad," and most often used by Human Capital staffers as an excuse for not hiring somebody. Example: "His inability to speak in tongues obviously makes his skill set wrong for the litigator position."
Knowledge economy. An environment in which a person has run up $150,000 in student loans to pay for a law degree only to see jobs exported to India whose citizens are apparently very knowledgeable about the U.S. legal system. Example: "The best job in the knowledge economy is plumbing because nobody with an advanced degree knows how to use Drano."
Throughput. Not your conclusions, but the mind-numbing numbers and facts you chewed over to get there; information generally demanded by a micro-manager who won't believe that you did the work. Example: "Don't tell me what you've decided about the Taliban beard-comb project; I just want your throughput."
Footprint. Impact, formerly ecological, but now applicable to anything. Example: "Auntie Meg's rear end had a significant footprint on our sofa."
Impactful. Having a large footprint. Example: "Auntie Meg's rear end had a very impactful effect on our sofa."
Two of my favorite bits of jargon come from a reader in the U.K. who says he made them up. The first: is "failure cascade", which he defines as a "sequence of bad stuff happening." An example might be: "The knowledge economy seems to be in a failure cascade." "Bus factor," he says, is a measure of how much the company would suffer if person X got hit by a bus. Example: "Billy has a really high bus factor." He reports that both phrases seem to be catching on.

Such inventiveness should be an inspiration to us all. If you don't love the gobbledygook you're with, then create some gobbledygook you'd like.
  • Marlys Harris

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