By Nara Schoenberg, Tribune Newspapers
April 12, 2011
What's the most annoying office-speak you've ever heard?
Some of my colleagues nominate the phrase "circle back," which means "decide later." There's also "drill down" for study, "strategize" for plan, "leverage" for take advantage of, "expedite the process" for get things moving, "reach out" for call, "share" for pitch this product, and "expedite the process" for get things moving.
Why say "going forward," others want to know, when, well, what choice do we really have?
Why sign off on an e-mail with "best?" as in "Best, Harold." Best what? Best wishes? Then why don't you say it?
And then there's calendar, the verb, and performancing, as in, "Let's calendar a time to circle back about a strategy for discussing the product's performancing."
"Performancing?" sputtered Mimi O'Connor, author of "The Dictionary of Corporate BS," under the pen name Lois Beckwith.
"When you get that kind of complete perversion of the English language, you really know that things have gone off the charts. I also recently heard 'onboarding,' which is similar."
Asked to name her own least favorite office jargon, O'Connor declined to choose but said she does get a kick out of "Thanks!" as it's used as a sign-off on mails.
"Everyone does that, even if [they're saying] go to hell. 'Thanks!' "
Not all office-speak is bad, of course, and a little may even be good. I work in an industry obsessed with making money from Internet advertising, and I'm deeply grateful that I don't have to say "making money from Internet advertising" on a regular basis. Let's hear it for "monetize the Internet!" I'm not a huge fan of "Thanks!" at the end of e-mails, but I vastly prefer it to "Best," "Cheers," and the dreaded "Fondly."
Used in moderation, office speak signals that you're in tune with your boss and colleagues, know the field you're working in and want to be part of the gang. Nothing wrong with that.
Still, excess jargon is likely to backfire, making you seem stodgy, out of touch or worse.
"As soon as you start piecing together [office-speak] phrases to make sentences, people start to tune you out," says O'Connor.
"You're in danger of losing your audience and, I think, being identified as somebody who is not sincere."
You're also in danger of touching off a certain amount of indignation among colleagues who are passionate about proper usage and clear expression.
"Words that are close to being on my list [of most annoying]?" one of my colleagues ranted in a page-long, single-spaced e-mail.
" 'Footprint' to mean the perimeter of a location and 'build' to mean 'the new thing.' As in: 'What is the footprint of the build?' instead of 'How big is the new Super Target?' Vertical is getting there, too. 'What's your vertical?' is the new 'What do you do here?' or 'What beat do you cover?' or 'What are you in charge of, anyway?' "
Wait: she's not done.
"Also: 'outward-facing' which is the opposite of 'top secret company insider info' and 'future-proof,' which is, well, as ridiculous as it sounds."
Office Hours appears weekly in TribU. If you have a work-related question—and remember, no question is too serious or too silly—send a note to Nara Schoenberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.