If, at the end of the day, you can take it to the next level, all boats rise. If you are a team player, you can connect the dots for a win-win.
If you have the bandwidth, you can circle back for the low hanging fruit — it’s a no-brainer.
Yes, I’m talking about corporate-speak, or business-speak, or whatever speak we want to call it. In a way, this type of syntax is a little like poetry — using images and metaphors for a regular concept such as, “Do you have time for this?”
And for some reason, groups of people working together — at the office, on a volunteer project or in the classroom — develop this kind of metaphoric language, spread it among themselves, and both share it with and pick it up from other organizations.
I don’t mean to say that this sharing is bad, like passing germs. But as a long-standing language watcher, I do find corporate-type speak intriguing, especially because it’s been around for so long.
For example, when one of my bosses once said, “at the end of the day,” I thought he literally meant at the end of the day. (I would have known the meaning if he had express it as “when it’s all said and done … ”) And that was 10 years ago.
“Low-hanging fruit” — meaning “let’s work on the easy stuff first” — has been around for as long as I’ve been in the corporate world, along with “think outside the box” and “I’ve got a lot on my plate.”
“Bandwidth” is common around organizations today to talk about capacity. When you want someone to be in touch, you simply ask him or her to “ping” you — call, text, message or email.
And let’s say you’re in a meeting when someone wants a more extended discussion; you’ll probably hear someone else ask to “take this offline” and then “circle back” to let the whole group know what’s been decided.
On the other hand, some words and phrases were just a flash in the pan (now that’s an old one!). You don’t hear “paradigm shift,” “synergy” or “value-added” much any more. Words like “holistic,” “leverage” and “robust” have taken their places.
The very organizations that perpetuate these semantic styles can also poke fun at themselves with what I call “Lingo Bingo” — a sort of insider’s game to these cultural cues.
It’s easy: Just compile the words and phrases that your coworkers, fellow volunteers or meeting attendees use on a regular basis. Divide up the words randomly and give everyone a different list. Then, during your meeting or conference call or special event, check off all the “speak” you hear from your list. The first one to get them all wins Lingo Bingo!
To be clear, I’m not immune from corporate-speak myself. You’re likely to hear me use “skill set,” “right fit,” and “going forward,” as well as “touch base” and “team player.”
What can I say? It is what it is.
Andrea Doray is a writer who, net-net, enjoys a 30,000-foot view of language trends ... even when it’s a one-off. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with your favorite “speak.”