I work at a place, one of those Fortune 100 companies, where corporate-speak is the lingua franca. Every day when I walk into the office, I check my normal vernacular, which has a certain bent toward bluntness and desert-dry humor, at the door.
Words and phrases that have clear, unmistakable meaning have no use at my workplace. Here we trade in ambiguity and generalities, the kind of language that’s inoffensive (for legal reasons), unspecific (for corporate politics reasons), yet somehow still manages to convey authority and erudition (for gravitas reasons…think three-syllable words that business majors use in an attempt to sound articulate…”My deliverables are a fundamental part of this marketing ecosystem“…Dang, look at all them fifty-cent words!!!).
I’ve often thought they should hang a sign over the entryway that says ‘Caveat Orator’ as a reminder. Although in my part of the country, a fair amount would mistake such a sign as a Spanish-language infringement on their English-language workplace and rip it to shreds.
I used to hate corporate-speak for its lameness, its imprecision, its Orwellian nature as a vehicle for prepackaged thought (this is not a 1984 reference, but a nod to the wonderful essay by George Orwell, Politics and the English Language…I highly recommend).
But you age and you soften, as people do, and at some point corporate-speak became less of a tedious nuisance and more of a tolerated absurdity, sometimes even a game. So much in the same way we used to make three-hour business meetings tolerable by pooling money and betting on how many times our department V.P. would nod off (never less than four), I decided to have a bit of fun with my long-time linguistic nemesis. I hope this list of translations is as educational for you as it was diverting for me. In corporate-speak, that’s what we call a win-win. Enjoy.
CORPORATE-SPEAK: “Let’s try to think out of the box.” COMMON ENGLISH EQUIVALENT: “You’re clearly incapable of creative thought. Please stick to your spreadsheets and keep your lame, hack ideas to yourself.”
CORPORATE-SPEAK: “Are there any best practices we can leverage here?” COMMON ENGLISH EQUIVALENT: “Sally doesn’t know what she’s doing, can someone please throw her a life preserver before she drowns in the endless sea of her own incompetence?”
CORPORATE-SPEAK: “What’s the value-add here?” COMMON ENGLISH EQUIVALENT: “Does your overly wordy, meandering presentation have a point, or did you just wake up this morning and decide you wanted to waste someone else’s time today besides your own?”
CORPORATE-SPEAK (also used frequently in PARENT-SPEAK): “We’ll have to see about that.” COMMON ENGLISH EQUIVALENT: “No.”
CORPORATE-SPEAK: “I’m not sure we can do that.” COMMON ENGLISH EQUIVALENT: “No.”
CORPORATE-SPEAK: “We’ll have to get executive approval for that.” COMMON ENGLISH EQUIVALENT: “Ask my boss if you want to, moron, but the answer’s still going to be no.”
If you’d like to add more to this list in the comments below, please do!