Do you feel like the world is passing you by?
Do you sit in meetings or at your desk every day and have no clue what the people around you are talking about?
Do you quietly snicker at people when they speak sentences that mean absolutely nothing?
If the above applies to you, this article will be an entertaining guide to not only educate you, but to reassure you that these people most likely have no idea what they are talking about and are just very, very insecure…
If you do not find this article funny, it is time to worry. You have given up your soul to the corporate machine and they are turning you into a mindless fool. We are laughing ‘at’ you, not with you.
I can’t remember when I first became aware of corporate clichés and the way people spoke in offices, but there was a time in the late 1980’s when the terrible jokes started coming at me from senior management in the company I worked for.
1) When walking down a corridor with someone coming the other way and almost bumping into each other- “Shall we dance?”
2) Hearing your change drop into the coffee machine would usually cause the senior manager to run over and shout “Jackpot!”.
3) Stuck in a lift with twenty other people. The fattest person in the building would appear at the open doors and say “Room for a little one?”
If you were brave enough there are standard non-corporate answers to the above three examples-
1) No- p*ss off
2) Not really- it’s just the change dropping into the machine…
3) No room for Mr Lard- go away.
In the real corporate world the actual answers were-
1) Ha ha ho ho
2) Ha ha ho hum
3) Of course- loads of room!
I wasn’t in a senior position at the time so maybe the clichés were flying around behind closed doors in various meetings, and if so I was fortunate enough to avoid them. I always wondered what the senior people did all day. I worked for a bank and was only 19 years old and going overdrawn would immediately result in the removal of your cheque book. Mr Rumbold (not the one from Are you being served, but that was his name) would sit in a corner office and call you in once a month to discuss the situation.
You would have to sit there while he explained the importance of money and how much he would let you withdraw. How much of ‘my’ money ‘he’ would let me withdraw? That’s how it was and you had no choice, but to live with it because employees were ‘not allowed’ to bank with another institution.
One day I called him David which was a huge error. He looked up, his cheeks went red and he let me have it. “My name is Mr Rumbold and don’t you forget it!” Yes, it sounds like something from Mary Poppins, but it really was like that with most managers still going by the name of Mr whatever and no mention of a christian name because those were for normal people.
Thinking back, most people who worked at the bank seemed to only have one personality- dull. They were a collective, similar to the Borg, who all thought as one and they just came in, moved bits of paper around and went home. Nothing else happened except for the Christmas parties which were achingly tiresome. The only bright spot of these parties was a man called Martin who came dressed as a matchbox one year. The next year he was a jukebox and then a packet of Benson & Hedges. You had to see his face poking out of the spot where the B&H logo should be to understand the enjoyment it brought to otherwise sleep-inducing events.
Our senior manager spoke while continually and audibly moving the spit around his mouth and if you happened to be in his vicinity when he was making a speech you would be covered. The experience came back to me when I visited Sea World many years later and sat in the wrong section as Shamu the whale got a little too close. He was always smiling and had a natural expression that some would call ‘dippy’. He laughed in the wrong places, wore dreadful suits and didn’t seem to do anything except laugh incredibly loudly if someone more senior paid a visit.
“Hi, how are you?”
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I’m great! Thanks for asking! HAHAHAHAH! Oooooo, I feel good that you are here.”
He earned a fortune and was happy in his own little way, but to give him credit he didn’t choose a secretary who was very attractive like most of the seniors did. In fact, I am still not certain she was even female.
I remember him occasionally wandering around the office and he would say things like “It’s going well at the moment. Happy to see everything working as I expected it to be. Can you tell me where department A is?” A tricky moment which cannot be handled subtly. “This is department A.”
“Oh yes, of course. Just my little joke.” He wandered back to his office past the half man, half woman and I slowly removed the spit from my suit and hair.
Another manager was completely the opposite to him. He would answer the phone with nothing more than “Curtis!” and that was the only time you ever heard him speak. He was fair and I liked him, but there was a managerial force field around him that is only employed for ‘very’ senior people today. The force field was very common in the late 1980’s.
What strikes me as strange is how conservative everything was back then. People would fawn over the seniors and be careful how things were said, but it just happened naturally. Today, there will be conference calls, meetings and lots of collusion just to ensure that everyone is bullshitting in unison when someone senior visits. I remember in a later company, the top man visiting and the day before lots of award certificates popped up on the walls. One was for me which said “£150 for excellent customer service.” I asked my manager where my money was and she told me to shut up. And to make matters worse, people had been employed to paint the grass outside the building before his visit. I kid you not, they were actually painting the grass.
As time passed by and I moved up through various positions in three companies, the clichés started to become more frequent.
It has now reached the point that people will often say one out loud in a meeting for no other reason that to say something.
Two meeting conversations I have had the misfortune to be engaged in stand out above the rest-
Account Manager: “OK guys, let’s get back together 1wDec.”
Me: “Sorry? What is 1wDec?”
Account Manager: “Tut. First week of December of course.” Two of his colleagues gave me a look suggesting I am the ignorant one.
Senior person: “Are these plans synergistic?”
Me: “Sorry- what do you mean?”
Senior person shakes head, looks out of window and finally says “Um, I’m not sure.”
I heard what must be the best cliché ever spoken and I will share it with you now. Are you ready for this? It is quite wonderful-
“Let’s stir fry some ideas in the info-wok.”
People who talk like that are barely human to me and deserve to be rounded up and subjected to hours of watching Judge Judy as punishment.
I often wonder if they talk like that at home.
“Hi honey, I’m home. Thought we could touch base later and put some synergistic plans together via a brainstorming session to ascertain our requirements for the future.” Roughly translated this means “Shall we have sex?”
Having said all of that, if you watch ’12 Angry Men’ (brilliant film) there is a guy in there spouting lots of clichés and that is an old film, so old that even Quincy was young in it.
So, we have covered how silly corporate talk has an impact, but what about silly office people? Are there specific types of people who inhabit offices?
I would say yes and I have grouped them as follows-
The Hermit — sits in a dark corner, knows everything but never shares it. Not ambitious, have found their niche and is usually comfortable with what they know and scared of moving outside of their comfort zone.
The Empire Builder — the one who hoovers up all the stationary, paper, and spare coat stands to have by their desk. Judges their success by the number of people they manage and have little care for budgets and their company balance book, as long as they are OK.
The Brainless Bimbo– looks good, but useless at almost everything. Usually employed by male Empire Builder because they think they can impress her (and they never check quality of employee’s work).
The Ugly One– usually a dumpy woman who gets little male attention. Just been given a low level team leader role and it has gone straight to her head. Buys power suits and talks cliches all day long, but cannot see past her own tiny team and the people she ‘owns’.
Nervy Norman– scared of interviews, talking to people and their own shadow. When greeted with a simple ‘Hello’ will reply with ‘um, ha, ho, hello, shfutfivgir…’ the last bit is the inane laugh that follows every sentence they speak.
The First Word– this person (usually male) has to make a big impact wherever he goes. Walks into a meeting and slams diary down on desk saying something like “OK, let’s get this show on the road!”?
Wall Street Wally– almost certainly an account manager or in Sales. Highly likely to be under 5′ 6″ tall and suffer from Napoleon Syndrome. Wears braces and pin-striped suits (with very thick stripes) and drives a BMW or Audi like a tosser at all times. Also king of the cliche and patronising to everyone.
The Victim– everything is everyone else’s fault. Never responsible for their own actions, can’t be bothered to do any work and thinks their manager and the rest of the people in their team are out to get them.
Bullshit Billy– desperate to impress. Lies until the lies become the truth- makes up stories and often gets embarrassed when they are found out BUT they still lie every minute of the day because it has become so habitual.
Perfect Peter– wears $500 suits, $100 shirts and has hair cut every week. Goes to the gym every lunchtime and is obsessed with his appearance and little else. Thinks every woman in the office adores him, but they are secretly laughing. Brainless Bimbo does adore him.
Pah! That’s nothing! or Topper– similar to Bullshit Billy but has done everything either before you or better than you. You mention a friend’s illness and they have either suffered from it or know someone who has. If something is reported in the news they were there at the time. You get the picture… “Pah! You talk about pictures. My mate has painted 10 million pictures blah blah…”
Stress Head– can’t cope with any stress at all. Gets annoyed if anyone phones them, hates emails and generally does not like confrontation of any kind. Usually timid and gets aggressive if anything out of the ordinary is asked of them.
Helpful Harriet– on your first day Harriet will offer to show you round the building, will make sure you have enough stationery and does everything to please in the hope of becoming your friend. Like everyone else you get annoyed with her and distance yourself very quickly, probably not talking to her after your first day.
The Traditional Manager– about 55 years old. Answers the phone using just their surname and rarely speaks to the people they manage. NEVER call them by their first name, never try to make a joke with them and always expect them to talk down to you when they bother to actually speak to you. They won’t call you by your name because they can’t remember it.
The All Rounder– good at their job, liked by everyone, good company and generally a nice person. And you hate them for it.
And now for the main course- a selection of clichés that you can use in your daily life to understand what these people are actually saying, or not-
All hands to the pumps
-everyone to help out
-as soon as possible (or asap)
At the end of the day
-used often but adds nothing to any sentence it is used in
-opposite view / bad feeling
Back on track
-not much detail
-covers a wide area
Broaden our horizons
-see ‘the bigger picture’
-parts of a project/product
Buy in — agreement
Can’t change the tiger’s stripes
-impossible to alter
Cast the net
-speak to people
-continuous with a ‘g’
Cooking on gas
-stupid American phrase
Could not see the wood for the trees
-Doh! Trees are made of wood
Cover all of the bases
-get agreement from all
Cover it off
-agreement from someone more important
-to locate similar work done by two people or teams (or sex with 2 people at once?)
Close of play
-finish / end of day
-I’ve bolloxed this up and need to hide the truth
-not a clue what this means
Don’t beat around the bush
-speak your mind- wimp!
-to expand rapidly
Eggs in one basket
-don’t rely on one solution
Escalate to the grown ups
-escalate: to inform a higher graded person / Grown Ups: the higher graded people
-to be in the zone whilst getting your ducks in a row with a hymn book
Evolutionary not revolutionary
Exponential interest syndrome
-email us if you know what this means (actually we don’t care…)
Eyeballs on the screen
Fall down the cracks
-when it all goes wrong this is where you will be
-will it work?
Fight the tide
-to argue your point against others
Finger in the pie
Fire up the chain
-pass to someone higher
-get more detail
-to barely concentrate
-customer dealing people
-to prepare / organise
Go the extra mile
-to ‘stretch the envelope’
Haste makes waste
-look at the ‘bigger picture’
Hit the ground running
-don’t bother thinking first
-a view that is holistic (any ideas??)
I won’t go into ‘solution mode’ just yet
-I have no solution
If you had time to do it twice, you had time to do it right the first time
In the zone
-to have the same ‘ethos’
-no one knows what this means even if when they say it but it sounds nice
-delivery of information (method)
-involve / tie together
Keep in the loop
-to keep someone informed
Keep the train on the tracks
-to keep steady / in place
-even you could understand
-learning difficulty / time
Let’s get our ducks in a row
-to have the same view / to prepare
Lets talk shop
-let’s have a chat about work
-base that’s not un-level
Look at the horizon
-to see the finishing point
Luck and a fair wind
-it will be a miracle if this works
Meet and greet
-see ‘touch base’
Move the goalposts
-to change the target
Nail to the wall
-sort out once and for all
-to sack people whilst pretending they really wanted to leave
Oiling the wheels of industry
-for God’s sake!
On the road
-I’m in a car
Onto the coalface
-not really sure what this means but it sounds good
Out from under the rock
-to give an opinion (at last!)
Press the flesh
-see ‘meet and greet’
-how much can we overcharge by?
Prune the bush
Push the boat out
-take a risk
Put faces to names
-see what someone looks like
Put it up a flag pole and salute it
-to recognise one’s achievement
Quick and dirty
-don’t worry about the detail
Scatter gun effect
-affects a lot of people
See the wood for the trees
-too much information to see the real detail
Set in stone
-cannot change your mind
Sing from the same hymn book
-to have the same view / to prepare
-area of time allowance
Stagger the stagger
-unable to walk?
Statistics not logistics
-one step up
-to sack someone / reduce costs
Stretch the envelope
-to make an extra effort / try something new (commonly confused with ‘going the extra mile’)
Strike a balance
-agree / compromise
Take on board
-to understand / consider
Talk the talk
-able to speak
-everything’s a bloody target!
The ball is in your court
-the decision is now yours
The big picture
-to see the ‘whole’ situation
The bubble has burst
-something has gone wrong
The value chain
-oh dear oh dear oh dear
Think outside the box
-to think on a wider scale
Tick in the box
Time is money
-actually it’s not but there you go
Time to market
-length of time left until launch of a product
To bring a strategic presence
-to attend the meeting to make up the numbers, sit in the corner and please do not say anything
-to make contact (the most common of all cliches)
Walk the walk
-able to walk
When in doubt, consult your inner child
Wipe the slate clean
Work to a program
-have a strategy
-you own it (very, very odd…)
The list is scary isn’t it and likely even more worrying because you have probably heard most of them many times. You have probably even heard people talk like that in a normal tone, as if it is perfectly natural to behave like that.
Feel free to set up your own bingo game with colleagues choosing a few of the clichés above, and feel free to call it ‘Wank Word Bingo’. Shouting ‘House!’ in the middle of an important meeting is always good fun, especially when the other attendees have no idea why you are doing so.
So, that’s what corporate speak is all about and hopefully you will now understand that you either need to join in and become one of them or become self-employed and be a good person. You can do it!