In every office, across every industry, in every city, there inevitably lies the distinct language of the land, AKA the “office jargon” that goes along with it. Even those of us who once had to sheepishly ask what exactly “ping me” meant (do I call? email?? Is ping the latest app I don’t know about yet??), given long enough exposure to these office clichés, will eventually find themselves ending emails with “please advise” or worse yet, calling a client to “follow-up” and/or “circle back” and/or touch-base (the touch-base is my personal fave for the record).
But I ask you? Does anyone really even know what these overused and often misused terms actually mean? Ever find yourself on the phone with someone and you literally have no idea what they’re actually saying but dog-on it they sound fancy! In my experience, it seems the more of these buzz words one can fit into a conversation, the less they actually know what they’re talking about…
Ever since my first office job, I’ve kept a running list of phrases that I didn’t quite understand but often heard, and at every job this list grew hilariously longer. I’ll spare you the list in its entirety and present you with some of my favorites and also most outlandish, must-be-an-inside-joke-I-don’t-get, overused office clichés.
Circle back/Follow Up/Touch-base – These all mean the same damn thing and that thing is “get back to you.” Ironically, one can never actually say “I’ll get back to you” though, they MUST use one of the aforementioned phrases. If anyone knows why this is please get back to me about it… 🙂
Hard Stop – Ahhh the old hard stop. AKA, I’m so important that I have another pressing engagement directly following this one. Ex: “I can talk for the next few minutes, but I have a hard stop at 2pm.” Related: Is there such thing as a soft stop?
Low-Hanging Fruit – Raise your hand if you’ve heard this gem meaning (I think) the “obvious wins” or “easy accomplishments.”
Chinese Fire drill – I honestly had to look this one up on Wikipedia after months of a certain client telling me that they had these going on. Frequently. I assumed it was a metaphor but for what, I was still unclear. In a nutshell, this is actually a borderline offensive reference that dates back to the early 1900’s and refers to a chaotic situation. So now you know…(see also Drinking From a Fire Hose which I think means basically the same thing.)
Run it up the Flagpole – I can’t hear this one without thinking of the old Nickelodeon show “Salute Your Shorts.” Is it just me?
Going Forward – This one brings me nostalgically back to my very first job as a PR assistant. A simpler time when I had never used a fax machine, never CC’ed anyone and certainly never “gone forward.” Little did I know that I would never again hear the familiar phrase “from now on” or even the whimsical “henceforth.” Nope from that moment on, it would always be “Going forward we will do things like this <insert thing to do forever more>.”
These are just a few of the many words/phrases that I believe are generally overused in traditional workplaces. I’m honestly curious as to why so many people use these terms? Do they make you sound smarter? More professional? More polished? Do they just seep into our vocabulary after hearing them so often? I’m dying to know!
So, now I’ll ask you, faithful readers, what’s your favorite – or LEAST favorite – office cliché? List ’em now in the comments. Or you know, ping me later about it!