Corporate Speak: You say it best when you say nothing at all

12/07/2010 at 8:13 pm (Humour) (, )

I have heard corporate speak evolve and dribble through the vocabularies of good, decent people. It defuses the need to actually explain yourself, and is the default mode for those who delight in vagaries. Corporate speak doesn’t actually say anything.

Because I find this method of communication the height of business tosspottedness, I have provided a useful guide of how to translate these mundane little slogans, along with some advice:

Run it up the flagpole and see who salutes = who agrees? There, simple. No colourful verbiage needed to make a meeting interesting. Let’s face it, a plate of biscuits is more effective.

Let’s see if we’re singing from the same hymn sheet = Agreement, as before. I love the idea of saying directly after this is uttered, “I don’t subscribe to any formal religion, therefore I automatically believe I am excluded. The plan is flawed.” But that might lead to a meeting running longer than it needs to. And NO ONE wants that.

Step up to the plate = ah, a juicy Americanism of course. Basically, do your job well. If you can, do more. Perhaps this one actually works as shorthand for business, primarily during interviews and reviews. It still sounds wanky.

Going/moving forward = my absolute favourite piece of redundant corporate speak. The next time someone says that to you in a sentence, mentally remove the phrase. The sentence hasn’t changed in any way, it’s only added to create a sense of forthright urgency. It’s like a verbal appendix; completely useless and there to remind you of how humanity is a bit rubbish.

There are no problems, only challenges = Nope, there are problems. There are little problems and there are big, fat, nasty problems that want you to die crying. You know what? By calling problems “challenges” it actually detracts from how bloody great you are for sorting them. Next time you have a staff shortage, an impossible deadline, or a packet of Walkers is stuck in the vending machine, don’t put it down to handling a challenge. Say to yourself, “There’s a right big swine of a problem, and I will solve it!” You’re already a better person.

This is just a tiny handful of terms that are served up in their hundreds, all over the world, every minute of every day. And it’s really hard not to do it too. Next time you’re tempted, make one up. “Well let me just sift the krill on this one.” “Sure, I’m panhandling the file as we speak.” Be worth it if anyone actually asks you what you mean.



  1. Derek Rodgers said,

    I had a boss once who told me he was afraid our client might be ‘buying a sinking buffalo’. I have no idea what he meant. I don’t think he did either.

  2. Maximillian de Winter said,

    Hahaha…bloody brilliant! We have loads of people like this across the world in my company…I don’t think they can help themselves.

  3. Marios Patrinos said,

    Yes, it can all sound a bit wanky sometimes, however, one of the “challenges” of working in a corporate environment, particularly IT is how utterly dull the language generally is, so my first argument is, at least it’s a bit more flowery. It can be very boring to say/write and/or listen to/read the same phrases all the time.

    Secondly, this is not a new phenomenon, there has always been a subtlety to the use of the English language because it is spoken by many different people for different purposes and so there are always new words or phrases used to try and either modernise or sound “forward-thinking”.

    Third, there is sometimes a particular language used in a company and generally, if it is not conformed to, your message can be lost. You’d think it wouldn’t be, however if stock phrases and in particular acronyms or names for things aren’t used (even if they are wanky “challenges vs. problems”), the collective will ignore your message as being “noise”

    My final thought on this is that I have been subject to both types of corporate speak, the over-the-top and the downright rude, I personally try and strike a balance between them and find myself constantly adjusting the way I would say the same thing to different audiences either based on the cultural, hierarchical or situational context.

    • peacockpete said,

      I think that’s a very good counter arguement. As you say in the workplace, particularly in offices, there is a vocabulary that is a sort of short hand. However, my argument is against the use of corporate speak that serves no purpose. To say something when nothing needs to be said to just show willing.

      I’m not above that myself, but some folks do overdo it a bit.

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