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What corpspeak bothers you the most? Edited

Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 16, 2021

Hey community, can I do a quick flyby, pick your brain, and double-click on an upcoming rollout we’re doing so we won’t have to, you know, circle back?

You guessed it. It’s about business jargon. And it sure is fun to criticize. This guy absolutely nails it.

Screen Shot 2021-06-16 at 5.04.18 PM.png

But here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately: what are the alternatives?

We can’t just identify overused corpspeak and make fun of it, we need to come up with fresh metaphors and clearer language. Because more thoughtful and precise communication increases understanding. It’s harder to do, but it’s better than just saying “I don’t like it” without giving concrete reasons and offering better options.

That’s where YOU come in. Will you give us your take on these two questions?

  1. What business jargon confuses and bothers you the most? What do you read all the time and wish the writer had used more helpful, relatable language?

  2. Can you come up with some good alternatives? For example, if leverage (good, but overused) is driving you a little nuts, what should we use instead? Take advantage of? Must good use of?

Let us know your thoughts and we’ll feature some of your replies in an upcoming Work Life blog!


Don’t hesitate, this is mission critical. This is where the rubber meets the road, people. Marinate on it, and take a deep dive. Then ping me. Just don’t put the cart before the horse, it’s not my first rodeo.

See, too easy! 😂

12 comments

"Leverage" is not a good word, it's terrible.  It's not a verb, it's a noun, for a start, so whenever you "leverage" the word to mean "use", you're wrong.  Use the word "use".  It's shorter, more clear, more accurate and grammatically correct.  (Unless you really are using it as the noun for "the action of using a stick and pivot to impart greater force than I could without it")

Action is another bullshit one - "I'll action that" - no, you mean "I'll do that".

Your list at the end is great - all phrases I hear a lot, and all of them mean nothing to me beyond "I think I need to show that I can talk the bullshit as well as the next person, rather than actually be of any use".  That's pretty much what all the corporate language means to me, and I note that the most successful people in the world (in the sense of actually doing useful things, not in the sense that they get rich or happen to "run" big businesses) do not speak this way.

Like # people like this
Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 24, 2021

Thanks for your thoughts, Nic. (And, in truth, I can't stand the use leverage but, like "lastly," my fight against it is nearing 100-year-war territory.

Sometimes, a bit of business jargon comes in handy. But many more times it's an idiom used to demonstrate... you know how to use it, and not convey meaning or understanding.

Hopefully these conversations (and alternatives to corpspeak) will encourage all of us to focus on what matters and not the trappings. 

Like # people like this

Now I feel called out, thanks Nic ;)

Like elizabeth_jones likes this

Building on what @Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ said, changing the part of speech of a word to make it have more impact drives me up a wall. My example is the word "ask" becoming a noun. Instead of saying, "We're asking you to do xyz", I keep hearing "the ask from our team is xyz". 🤯

I know language is a living thing and we have to expect it to evolve. But evolution should hopefully bring improvement, and I just don't think this is doing so. 

Also, on different lines, "reach out". If I ask someone (using "ask" the correct way!) for something and they don't have an answer, 90% of the time I'll get, "let me reach out to so and so and get back to you." Why do you have to reach out? Why can't you just ask them? Or contact them, or see what they have to say? "Reach out" is one of those things that triggers my touchy-feely threshold. 

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Esther Strom Community Leader Jun 21, 2021

Also, I just watched the video, and it's a tiny slice of nightmare fodder.

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Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 24, 2021

OMG, Esther. "Ask" drives me up the wall, too. And "lastly" and... ready for this one? LEARNINGS. Stab out my eyeballs, box my ears!

As I said to Nic, hopefully the more we talk about this, the more we can shift our focus to communicating in a straightforward, helpful way. If/when you have alternatives to share, please do!

Like # people like this
carolyn french Community Leader Jun 21, 2021

"Let's take this offline", which many times means into a 1:1 conversation never to see the light of day again. Or just a nice way to kill things. Either way, can be frustrating. (and the irony now is that everything is online... (https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/13193/origin-of-lets-take-it-offline)

Instead, we should just say "that's out of scope of this meeting; we can discuss in x, y, z open channel" "that deserves a separate conversation".

Like # people like this
Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 24, 2021

Spot-on, Carolyn. Sometimes it requires us to notice when we're parroting these phrases. Sure, someone probably gets the concept of "take this offline"... but is that really the best thing to say?

Like Dave Liao likes this
Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 21, 2021

I first visited Austin many many years ago. I hung out in a cafe full of UT students.

Years later, I lived in Austin and went back to that same cafe. About 30 minutes in, I heard, "And the next action is?" - I turned and saw two tech bros having a discussion and realized that it's not just students here anymore. 😂

My next action was to not return to that cafe.

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Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 24, 2021

Ha. Dig how you actioned on that decision, Dave. 

Like Dave Liao likes this
Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 21, 2021

"Let's flesh / flush this out."

  • Flushing out birds?
  • Fleshing out a bare bones diagram?

Instead of either one, maybe say "let's improve this outline / improve this wireframe"?

Like # people like this
carolyn french Community Leader Jun 22, 2021

Totally guilty of this one 😆

Like Dave Liao likes this
Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 24, 2021

Better, and clearer alternative. Thanks Dave.

Like Dave Liao likes this

I don't necessarily find corporate idioms annoying — I think they're kind of interesting, especially when they borrow from tech and bring it into an IRL conversation in an interesting way:
- Let's double-click into this
- We need to take this offline
- "Download" as getting someone updated on the specifics of a project or past conversation

The ones that do bother me the most are sports related:
- Knocked it out of the park = did an awesome job
- Touchbase = meet to talk through an update
- Heavy-hitter = someone who gets things done
- Drop the ball = make a mistake / forget to do something

(The sports one that doesn't seem to bother me, though, is "kickoff." It just seems too apt to let go of)

Last, I have a coworker who really hates certain animal-related idioms. 
- Kill two birds with one stone = get two things done at once
- Beat a dead horse = continue to talk through something in a way that's not productive
- Bigger fish to fry = bigger problems to solve first
- Bring home the bacon = make money or, if you insist upon something food related, "get this bread."

The NPR podcast, Rough Translation, did a great piece on non-native English speakers and how idioms like this can feel isolating. As a native English speaker, I can have a perfectly normal conversation with my peers elsewhere, but dropping idioms like this into my language isn't very inclusive and can slow the momentum of our working relationship. I think it's the biggest and most important reason to avoid using them: 
https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2021/04/25/989765565/tower-of-babble-non-native-speakers-navigate-the-world-of-good-and-bad-english

Like # people like this

I learned about bad idioms a long time ago.  When your work is with countries where English (or variants such as Australian or American) are the primary language, phrases like "flogging a dead horse", "memory of a goldfish" or "dead cow" are moderately understandable (if a bit animal cruel).   They often have equivalent phrases or idioms in non-English languages, but idioms generally translate very very badly.  Which is why I always encourage people to speak in base English, without idioms or jargon.  ("Dead cow" really doesn't go down well in some areas, for what it's worth)

I like illustrating this by using words or phrases I've grown up with.  Fiddlefart or cheeselog for example - love using those types of words in business meetings to remind people that they're really not being clear if they start using corpspeak.

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Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 22, 2021

I'm guilty of using "ping" instead of "email" / "IM" / "call" (etc.).

Wow, double-clicking into something? Thought I had a lot of corporate miles, but apparently not. Never met anyone who said or wrote that before.

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Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 22, 2021

@Samie Kaufman - Your Gal at Gliffy - good call on the NPR podcast!

When working with non-native English speakers, I try to borrow an idiom from the other team to help break the ice. I love the exchange of slang and language (when practical; you wouldn't want to do this in a courtroom), so if you're including a little of your local language and explaining it, you keep your conversation less robotic and more honest.

Of course, you want to ensure your local language doesn't offend non-local sensibilities. It's a challenge.

Like Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ likes this

Very true, it's a good ice-breaker [sic ;-) ] when someone goes "oh, I think we have a saying for that in our language" and both sides explain where their phrases come from!

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Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 22, 2021

@Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ - ha jeez, I can't even avoid the corp-isms in my explanations! 🧊🏒

I love the idea of trying to spin it to a positive way of getting to know the language/idioms of your other teammates. :)

I didn't mean to sound overly negative, either — I think language is so fascinating! And it should always be moving and evolving. I just want to make sure I'm always working on being inviting and inclusive, at the same time.

But yeah, double-clicking was a big one at Target Corporate in Minneapolis. I haven't heard it at Perforce yet, though, so maybe it's not as widespread as I imagine.

Like # people like this
Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 23, 2021

@Samie Kaufman - Your Gal at Gliffy - no worries Samie!

I didn't read your post as negative - just wanted to highlight the positive (I'm a positive person!) to help anyone who stumbles on our posts.

giphy

Jamey Austin Atlassian Team Jun 24, 2021

I'm with you, Samie. Sometimes, the biz speak is sort've fun and even effective. At the end of the day (see what I did there?), it's about awareness of what we're saying and what we're trying to communicate. A "double-click" here and there can occasionally suit the situation. I still remember the first time I heard it, a slick salesman presenter used it and I had to admit it was both fresh (to me, at least) and meaningful (for what he was saying). But, like so many others, overuse kinda killed it. 

Slang, jargon, parlance... I love it all. It's how humans communicate. But it doesn't work when there isn't much substance or thought behind it. You make a fabulous point about speakers of other languages. Far too often (especially by Americans) this isn't top of mind, as it should be. Your suggestion, Nic, about asking "how do you say this in your language" is brilliant!

Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 24, 2021

@Jamey Austin - lack of substance is something I'm trying to avoid in my written and spoken speech. It's a hard habit to break! Sometimes I use Hemingway Editor to keep my writing sharp.

Not really corpspeak, but I do get irked when folks use "to be honest" or "honestly" as transitions or filler. Once I responded "honesty, finally!" to someone who said that. 😅

I'm guilty of using "honestly" that way. I have no idea why, or where it came from, and until you mentioned it I never really thought about it. I think I mostly use it in the sense of "Honestly, I don't have an answer" when someone asks me something, rather than making something up that sounds good but isn't really correct. Now that you've pointed it out... well, I'll probably still do it 😄. But at least I'll be aware of it.

Like Dave Liao likes this

I realised "honestly" feels disingenuous a long time ago, and tried to stop doing it myself. 

I realised I simply replaced it with "To be frank", and now try to use that as little as possible.  I think it's slightly better than "to be honest" though, because it tends to indicate "I'm going to say something very accurate next, but I don't think you're going to like it" instead of "I was lying a minute ago".

However. 

I think a lot of humans say things to give their brains a couple more seconds to process what they want to say though.  "To be honest" is often a filler phrase for thinking time, rather than having any real meaning.

Like Dave Liao likes this
Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 25, 2021

@Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ - 100%! I prefer "frankly" over "honestly" and hopefully my teammates who've used "honestly" were honest the entire time 😏

Oh.  "Blue sky thinking" - supposed to mean something like "if we had complete freedom to do what we wanted (within this subject), just think of the wonderful ideas we might have". 

What it says to me is "my head is in the clouds, so everything is fuzzy, I can't see anything, and I haven't a clue where I am". 

Because it's almost always raining where I live, blue sky just means "you're going to be hit with a cloud any second now"

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Disclaimer: I grew up in the UK but live and work in San Jose, CA, so I still get my Englishes mixed up sometimes. For example, when I "table" an item, does that mean we are going to look at it, or not work at it? I can't remember, so I avoid the word now.

My favorite phrases are when people make small mistakes that totally change the meaning. For example, someone was joking with another colleague and said "I'm just pulling your legs" (it's usually just "pulling your leg" singular).

And another time I heard "let's take a bottoms-up approach to the problem". In the UK, "bottoms up!" is an encouragement to drink alcohol. Perhaps that was in fact what he meant ;)

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Dave Liao Community Leader Jun 24, 2021

🍻

Not a corp-speak one, but, very much like "table", "presently" means very different things to English-speakers and American-English-speakers.

I did think of this thread today, when a Canadian said "the proof is in the pudding" in a meeting.  I kept quiet, but the techy in me wanted a proper spec - Yorkshire? A dessert? White? Custardy/Moussey thing North Americans talk about? Black? Christmas? Bread?  Do we need to worry about the Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea or the Phantom Flan Flinger?  

There's quite a lot of subtle differences in words and phrases, and even slight mis-translations can matter when it's an idiom. 

Or divert you down completely the wrong train of thought!

Like # people like this

I have a feeling this will be everyone's new lorem ipsum text generators.

http://officeipsum.com/

https://www.cipsum.com/

Prethink low-hanging fruit, driving the initiative forward and run it up the flagpole, ping the boss and circle back strategic fit. We need to dialog around your choice of work attire shotgun approach great plan! let me diarize this, and we can synchronise ourselves at a later timepoint yet what about scaling components to a global audience? Due diligence optimize the fireball herding cats, yet touch base. Execute . We need to future-proof this. 

Esther Strom Community Leader Jun 25, 2021

Buzz-Lightyear-Free-Falling-Nooooo-Reaction-Gif-In-Toy-Story-2Please, no.

Like # people like this
Like Dave Liao likes this
Brittany Joiner Community Leader Jun 25, 2021

I have heard a couple people say “single throat to choke” as a euphemism for the person responsible for something and it’s very cringey and I hate it. 

Like # people like this

Lord Vader walks the talk

image-picsay (1).png

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elizabeth_jones Community Leader Jul 16, 2021

I've asked people to "pause for a moment or hold that thought" and had a higher ranking person state, "You mean, put a pin in it?" "Parking Lot" it or "put a pin in it" is my pet peeve when we usually mean that we want to stay focused on the topic being discussed, or pause for a moment while we explore other ideas. 

Like Dave Liao likes this

If we could all promise to never use the word "verticals" again, and actually commit to keeping that promise, that would be great.

Like Nic Brough _Adaptavist_ likes this

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