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Friday 15 March 2019

Park that puppy in a swim lane

  • The fight against bad English isn’t frivolous, said Orwell
  • The fight for English that means something isn’t frivolous either
  • So please join us on the barricades as we action the deliverable of a workplace language we can understand

By Liz Moseley and Joe Joseph

When the American composer John Cage said “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it,” he was being at once poetic and tantalisingly paradoxical.

Too often today we are surrounded in our workplaces by people who also have nothing to say, and are saying it – without it ever dawning on them that nobody has a clue what they are talking about. They are not being poetic or paradoxical. They are being impenetrable and obscure. They are practitioners of business bullshit.

These men and women, tycoons and trainees, are the workplace wonks who speak in phrases that seem to be assembled from a random string of Dadaist inventions. They talk about boiling the ocean and backing up the truck without ever grasping that the blank-eyed look on their colleagues’ faces masks concern, not wonderment.

What does it all mean? Here’s our best guess at some answers:


To action To do

To circle back To go over everything again with a slightly different group of people; to procrastinate

To get the fish out on the table To talk about the awkward stuff no one wants to face

To take to the next level To speculate wildly (see also “innovation”)

To socialise with the team To send your work to everyone in the company so they can see what a genius you are; to go to Nando’s

To boil the ocean To waste time on a pointlessly ambitious task

To cascade down To send an email to #everyone

To move the needle To make an actual difference. Rare

To punch a puppy To do something hateful for the good of the firm

To get buy-in To brainwash

To drill down To nitpick

To drink from the firehose To be overwhelmed and therefore useless

To drink the Kool-Aid To show blind, Pavlovian allegiance

To empower To transfer accountability, to wriggle off the hook

To smash it To complete an unremarkable task on time

To brainstorm To shout at a flip chart

To ping To irritate by email or text

To grow the cake To turn the volume up to 11

W1A took BBC jargon to a new level


Innovation Looks impressive but doesn’t really work

Transformation programme Expensive, disruptive way to maintain the status quo

Change agent Troublemaker

Deep dive When you drill down and never come up

Blue sky thinking Ostensibly fun but ultimately futile idea generation

Cakeism The belief that you can have all the benefits of something with none of the disadvantages (see also “Brexit”)

Off-site Meeting held outside the office (see “to brainstorm”). The snacks are better but the ideas are worse and someone always breaks a limb team-building

Learnings Regrets

Low-hanging fruit Easy tasks usually based on googling

Feedback Criticism

Wash up Meeting to agree the formal list of regrets (see “learnings”)

KPI (key performance indicator). Ransom

Full court press Panicky bullying of junior workers close to deadline, with added half-understood sports metaphor

Onboarding Like welcoming, only without the humanity and warmth

Stakeholder Axe wielder

Swim lane A straitjacket of responsibilities

Takeaway Sadly, nothing to do with curry

Thought leader Fantasist

Pitch rolling Forewarning of management U-turn (see also “heads up”)

David Brent pointed the way to office drivel


Do you have a sec? Do you have an hour?

Going forward From now on until I change it

Bleeding edge Sometimes “cutting edge” is not quite Stephen King enough

Run it up the flagpole I dare you to suggest it

Put on a record and see who dances Ditto

Move fast and break things Leave others to pick up the pieces

Thanks for reaching out Oh God, how did you track me down?

Take this offline Stop talking like you’re an idiot

Touch base Contact, but NB never use this phrase

Open the kimono Reveal information, but ditto

Zero base it Cut costs to the bone (normally accompanied by an increase in revenue target)

It is what it is Kierkegaard? Sartre? No, it’s the acceptance of failure by someone who can’t be bothered to fix a problem

Park that Ignore it

Are we aligned? Has everyone stopped squabbling?

Laying hens Productive, valued employees

Back the truck up Are you mad? Or: say all that again, I was asleep

We’re still in beta Don’t blame us if it’s broken

Take it to the next level Meaningless, unless said by someone who realises as the lift door opens that they pressed 18 instead of 19

Idea shower Not to be confused with shit shower (see also “brainstorm”)

By close of play today Oh all right, by tomorrow morning

Opening image: Wonks’ way in The IT Crowd

Further reading

George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language sounded the alarm in 1946 about a rising tide of jargon, even if it didn’t stop it

Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit (2005) spent 27 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, even though it was first published as an essay 19 years earlier