Monday, August 18, 2008

Ten Words/Phrases I Haven't Missed in the Past Year

This weekend marked a huge milestone for me... it's now been a full year that I've been free of The Man. If you weren't reading this site back in August 2007, you can check out my triumphant post about kicking Corporate America to the curb here.

I've been reflecting a lot upon what I do and don't miss about going into an office every day, so all of my posts this week are going to revolve around that theme. Let's start with...

The Top Ten Words and Phrases I Haven't Missed

(If you've never heard any of the following around your office, consider yourself lucky and be thankful that you are obviously not surrounded by mega-nerds!)

10) Ping

Used in a sentence: "I'll ping you later about this," or "Did you get my ping?" or "Did he ping you about the meeting time getting changed?"

Some companies I worked for had internal instant messaging systems, which were used (and abused) to a ridiculous extent. If you were on the phone with someone, or in an in-person meeting with them, they may end the call/meeting with: "OK, I'll ping you later about this to follow up." That meant that they would send you an instant message soon and bug the crap out of you until you gave them an answer or whatever it was that they needed from you. I quickly learned how to make myself appear to be "away from my desk" to all of my not-favorite people.

But the reason I don't like this word is because it's just an annoying word overall. Say it: "Ping." It's just weird-sounding. Plus, having a lot of experience with old-school IT stuff, "ping" always reminds me of when the tech guys were "pinging" networks (a type of test). The word "ping" also sounded too much like "Pong," the awesome video game which I obviously could not be playing if I was at work. Basically, I just never liked the sound of this word and I'm glad my life is rid of it.

9) "It is what it is."

Used in a sentence: "Unfortunately, it is what it is."

This sentence is useless. But I heard it all the time, at every company I worked for... and I still hear it today, just in normal conversation with friends. I'm guilty of uttering it, too. I guess it's just what people say when a situation kind of sucks but there's no changing it. But it sounds so silly. "It is what it is." Oh, really? You are SO DEEP!!!!

8) "At the end of the day..."

Used in a sentence: "At the end of the day, we have to get the web site working again or we're all going to get fired."

Chalk up some "obvious" points for yourself if you use this phrase. Usually people would say something like, "But at the end of the day, we still need to make a decision." Or, "At the end of the day, this ridiculous document still has to be created, so who's going to do it? Not it." It's another way of saying "The bottom line is..." (which I admit to using way too much). The bottom line is that at the end of the day, people need to stop saying both of these phrases because they are old and tired.

7) "Fire off an email" or "Shoot off an email"

Used in a sentence: "I'll fire off an email to the consultants and ask where in the hell their deliverable is."

These phrases are used by businesspeople who secretly want to be cowboys or cops. That's the only reason I can come up with for why they wouldn't just say "I'm going to SEND an email." I can just picture these people typing a message furiously and then hitting the "send" button with a flourish, as if they had just whipped out their gun for a duel at high noon. "I shot off that email REAL good!"

6) Bandwidth

Used in a sentence: "Please don't add me to that project team, I don't have the bandwidth."

Note to all people that use this word: you are a human, not a web site hosting service. "Bandwidth" is an extremely obnoxious word for "time." Say that you don't have enough time in the day to be added on to another project team. Say that you will spontaneously combust if anyone gives you any more work. Yell that they don't pay you enough to put up with any more crap. But please, please, PLEASE don't say that you don't have any more bandwidth.

5) "Move forward"

Used in a sentence: "I know that Sue thinks our logo should be green and John thinks it should be blue, but we have to move forward with a decision."

I can't put my finger on why I don't like this saying. Maybe it's just overused. Or that it reminds me of something a psychologist would say: "I understand that you encountered a scary clown as a child, but if you don't face your fear of clowns now that you're 45, you're never going to be able to move forward (OR go to the circus or any Halloween parties)."

4) "Deck" and/or "Deliverable"

Used in a sentence: "Did you get the latest version of the deck that Larry just sent out? It's still not right, we're going to be up all night working on this thing."

I've either been a consultant or been surrounded by other ex-consultants my entire career, and I therefore cringe every time I hear the word "deck" ("deliverable" is just as bad, but I haven't been hearing that one for as long. It just sounds so... generic). A deck is simply a PowerPoint presentation. I guess the nickname came from when the presentation was printed out, it looked like a huge deck of 8.5'' by 11'' playing cards or something, I don't really get it. Either way, I wish people would just say "presentation" or "PowerPoint" instead. The good news is that the only time I've launched PowerPoint in the past year was when I hit its icon by accident when I meant to be opening Word. No more decks for me!

3) "Circle back"

Used in a sentence: "I'll give you a few days to start the deck and then I'll circle back and see how it's coming."

This is another phrase that reminds me of cowboys... like "circling the wagons" (although the meaning is not the same, it's just the use of the word 'circle'). Instead of "circle back," people should just say "I'll check in" or "I'll call" or "I'll email," because that's what they're actually going to do.

2) Offline

Used in a sentence: "Can we take this conversation offline?"

My blood starts boiling just thinking about this stupid word, even though I basically haven't heard it at all (thank God) in 12 months. Once again, we are humans, not machines or web sites. We are not ever physically "online." But people must consider being on a conference call the same thing as "being online," because whenever they want to take something "offline," it means that they don't want everyone else to hear about it, or that it's not on-topic. My preference would be, "Can you and I talk about this later? Because no one else on this call cares."

1) "Reach out"

Used in a sentence: "Can you reach out to Paul and ask about the rate we're charging this client? Because whatever it is, it's not enough."

This one takes the number one spot because I ABSOLUTELY DESPISE THIS PHRASE. It just sounds so touchy-feely to me. Say what you mean, people! Say "call" or "email" or "get a hold of one way or the other"... don't say "reach out."

Perhaps it's my near-Detroit upbringing, but every time I hear someone say "reach out," I immediately hear The Four Tops in my head. They plead, "Reeeeach ouuuuttttt.... reaaaaccch oouuuuuuuuut, for me!!!!! I'llllll be theeeeeeereee...." etc., etc.

OK, I've got two other posts of ranting coming up (I'm going to end the week on a positive note though, fear not), so that's enough for now. Just be conscious of how often you say any of these phrases, and know that if you do, you're bound to be annoying the hell out of someone (which might be OK, if you're doing it on purpose to bother someone who is annoying you).

Any others I forgot?

- e


rebecca said...

Oh wow, e! You hit the nail on the head with so many of these! My boss says "circle back" all the time, and I actually recently got into an argument with a coworker about the derivation of that phrase. (I said it's like "circling the wagons"; you seem to agree. So I win.) We say "deck" allll the time here. What's wrong with report? Or presentation? And I'm glad you mentioned having dreams about powerpoint - when I started my current consulting job, I had horrible nightmares about excel... Eeek! Can't wait for the rest of your Corporate America style posts this week!

Craig said...

Ping? Fortunately, I haven't heard this one, because that really is irritating.

"It is what it is" makes perfect sense for how it's used--I guess-- but I hate hearing it because of the overuse. They did a bit on it during one of the seasons of Top Chef where they showed everyone saying it over and over.

Taking something "Offline" drives me insane for exactly the reasons you describe. Good call on that one.

Mark Williams said...

good for you. you really went after the "low-hanging fruit."

Erika (aka "e") said...

I can't believe I forgot "low-hanging fruit"!!!

That is definitely one of the worst phrases ever. Perhaps I've just blocked it from my mind. Thanks for the painful memory.

- e

Anonymous said...

I nominate these two:
(1) RADAR SCREEN, as in, "We are going to face a lot of challenges, and I wanted to make sure they are on your radar screen."
(2) SYNERGY, as in, "We need to work on building better synergy between upper and lower management." Also applies to SYNERGISTIC and SYNERGIZE.

Both are BS terms designed to make people feel like they are solving problems when they are not really doing anything but talking, talking, talking.

Anonymous said...

And let's not forget "put it in the parking lot" or "let's table that for now."

But I'd take either one of those any day over my all-time least favorite project rah-rah phrase...
"it's GO TIME!"

Unknown said...

Great subject, e! Here are some examples of "work-speak" that make me cringe:

1) Quick-n-Dirty (ex., "Just give me the Quick-n-Dirty version")
In other words, please don't bog me down with relevant details while I'm playing Zork on my BlackBerry.

2) SME (Subject Matter Expert, pronounced "smee")
definition: Someone who gets paid more than you to show up late to meetings, criticize your project and restate the obvious.

3) Reorg (as in reorganization)
As in, "Dear Sweet Jesus, not again!"

twilight said...

my friend today said she'd "shoot me an email"... and i was like "BANG!" and she just gave me a weird look... hahaha :)

... i hate "it is what it is"... no really?!

*your cali friend*

Anonymous said...

I absolute depise "it is what it is" mainly because it is often used by people to deflect any blame, guilt, or reason off of them for despicable behavior...I call it a non-answer...and I despise myself when I say it...I have to roll my eyes at my own damn self.

Erika (aka "e") said...

I can see that this post touched a nerve with a lot of people... I got some Facebook messages and emails about it, too!

All of the other words/phrases mentioned here in the comments were ones I didn't care for, either.

The funny thing is with "SME," which Clementine mentioned... we used to say that so much at one of my old firms that when I went to Disney in 2006, I actually sought out the characters of Captain Hook and Smee (from Peter Pan) and got my picture taken with them so that I could say I had met with the "Original SME." I checked but I never put that pic up on this site, sorry.

And "quick and dirty" is just gross-sounding. Sometimes people would also say "back of the envelope" to convey the same thing, and that also seemed lame.

- e

Scott said...

I'm depressed boss uses EVERY ONE OF THESE ON A DAILY BASIS.


Oh, well...I guess it is what it is, right?

Allison said...

Talking about anything offline KILLS ME!

The last corporation I worked at incorporated a new theme one year, which was around the word "candor." Every meeting afterwards, some higher up would say, "In the spirit of candor..." Of course, we underlings used this much more to our advantage because how much candor can there really be? Especially when the annual layoffs were the next month.

Anonymous said...

This is great. I am still working for the Man, so I can relate. Actually, I am friends with the Man and want to be the Man.

K and/or K said...

"Let's decompress." As in: "Great ideas. Let's all decompress and we'll come back to this on Friday."
PUKE! What are we--air matresses that need to get rid of the big ideas you threw at us??

Anonymous said...

How about "Put that on your radar"?

Great post.

Anonymous said...

This might be more of a technical term, but I hate when people call something "Vanilla". As in, you are just using the software as it comes with no customizations. Can't they just call it plain or uncustomized?

Also another thing that techies say too often is "Sexy". Like if they came up with a good solution for a problem they will call it sexy. That is so annoying!!!

Anonymous said...

How about "lens" - as in "lets look at through the lens of manufacturing or innovation". I can't bring myself to say it without smiling!!!
and "deck" - I could cry everytime I hear that word as it just means hours of work that my boss is simply never happy enough with ....

Anonymous said...


You all have failed miserably. Now from a 50,000 ft level, you may appear to have come up with some notable phrases. However, if we get more granular, i think i cant really get my arms around your output. So, why dont we circle and come up with some real winners. I think we should first start an operating committee for phrases with several core principles, and have a meeting to talk about the meeting to do so. For those of you off the blast list, can you please run interference with legal before they get wind of our goals. (cheers)
1) Mock everything
2) A lot
3) Pay attention in meetings so we can mock at a higher, more granular level

Please feel free to call OR EMAIL me if you have questions.


Anonymous said...

OMG - Love this post!
How about "touch base" as in "To remind me about it, how about we touch base tomorrow?"
My boss uses this ALL the time urggggggg!

-Nicole in Toronto