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Year in review: My favorite words and phrases from 2016 and what I’ve learned they mean

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Has business jargon jumped the shark? At the tail end of a year in which gifs have joined ‘lol’ and ‘rofl’ in work emails and I’ve realised that the guy with the weird punctuation was actually trying to send me smiley faces all along, I’d like us all to commit to an actual #squadgoal: that of finally starting to say what we actually mean FTW.

With politics going the way of far, far too many of my most cherished music and sports icons this year, there has been plenty to discuss. And as the last all-hands calls go to the great web-ex in the sky, I’ve been reflecting not just on what was said, but how we did it – and the language we used to get it done.

I closed 2015 with my top buzzwords NOT to use in 2016. This time around I’d like to end with a look at some of my favourites from the last twelve months, old favorites and a few new ones – and what I’ve now learned they mean. Enjoy – and do please add your own. I’ll leave it to you which ones we consign to the bin and never speak again.

Action: This just means “do.”

Align: As in, “Let’s get aligned on that!” This is an interesting one. On the surface it seems a rather benign request for collaboration but the subtext can range anywhere from just that, all the way through to “I just need you to do what I say.” See: Stakeholders.

Ask: The ask is what you have to do. ASAP or by EOP. 

Buddy: The use of this actually means “I like you, you are my friend.”

Comfort break: There’s no need to append “comfort” to anything. All you’re doing is telling us your back teeth are floating, and no one needs to know that. Ever. Just “break” will do.

Empower: You’re on your own. As in: “You are empowered to make this happen.”

Face palm: See “head desk,” below.

Friend: As in, “Listen my Friend.” Do not confuse with the word “buddy.” When used in conversation is means: “What I am about to say is very serious because you’ve used all your lives up.” It doesn’t mean pal, buddy or even mate…and it certainly doesn’t mean friend.   

Fully scalable: Zero resource (yet).

Head desk: See “face palm,” above.

Interlock: For interlock, see align.

Let’s take this offline: Similar to “put a pin in it” except it will lead to a stern one-to-one conversation where you will be told quite directly never to mention this again.

Leverage: When did we stop just saying “use”? Do the extra two syllables make it more clever? If you leverage this word more it will make you sound far clevererer.

Mate: English for “Pal.”

Metflix and chill: A happy (but all too rare) combination of actual “me time” without family. The first night of any business trip, to stay in one’s hotel room with eight hours of boxed sets to catch up on, a couple of glasses of sauvignon blanc and a great excuse not to have to do the kids’ homework for them. 

Move the needle: Please will someone else do something. “We really need to move the needle on sales” translates as: “I have nothing to add in terms of vision or ideas to push this initiative forward, but I want to show assertiveness through a positive, vapid statement.” Also, needles are sharp. If you’re not careful you’ll prick your finger – and you’re no sleeping beauty, mate.

Off grid: Leave me alone.

On-demand: We like the idea but we can’t afford it.

Pal: Glaswegian for “Mate.”

Paradigm shift: Change of mind. But now we’re acting like we meant to do it all along.

Peel the onion: I still don’t know what this means.

Pivot: An entirely useless word. Sometimes used to describe a sudden change in the perspective/demand of a key stakeholder. For example: “That was a truly disruptive pivot” really means “what the blazes is that idiot smoking?”

Put a pin in that:  Manager-speak for, “Never mention this to me again. Ever.”

Reach out: Somehow sending someone an email now constitutes reaching out, though it conjures a somewhat desperate image. I can’t read “Thank you for reaching out” on an email without pulling a face a bit like Alan Rickman contemplating Bruce Willis at the end of Die Hard.

Stakeholders: Loosely translated as people who can fire you if you disagree with them. Often used with “align,” as in: “We must align with our key stakeholders.” You will continue to hear this until long after you hoped to have become one. 

Take this offline: It’s too boring to go into now. Let’s do it later when we don’t have to inflict a full explanation on the other stakeholders 

Workshop: As in “sounds great, let’s workshop that.” Translates as: “Nice idea. Other people will do it better.”

Jamie Anderson
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December 20, 2016
Jamie Anderson

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