Could we have a word?


Recently, I sat in a meeting at which the word "concepting" was used unironically multiple times.

This was the same meeting at which a new organizational "operating system" was unveiled to great fanfare, and with heavy reliance on "traction." I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with snow tires.

I don't know about the rest of the audience, because I was making a study of looking out the window, but if the tone of the woman presenting the operating system was any indication, there might have been some general mystification. She kept saying, "I know, it's a lot."

I guess if by "a lot" we mean "on a communicative scale from 'Winston Churchill' to 'Swedish Chef,' it's '2-year-old with a mouthful of gummy bears who just fell down,'" then yes, it's a lot.

But then it hit me: In much the same way that "Well, technically..." is code for "Prepare to be annoyed," I realized that "concepting" is merely code for "We're barely managing to keep our mouths closed as we think our thinkiest of thoughts."

All that meeting — and any other meeting ever in the whole world, in any language or field of labor — needed was a codex. A glossary, if you will, for the business jargon that has been mocked and reviled for years but is still the lingua franca of work.

So, as my Labor Day gift, from one working stiff to another, I've compiled a handy little glossary of the stupidest — strike that — some very common terms to help you translate your next meeting.

Term: best practices

Meaning: If I do it this way and justify it with something about "current research," maybe no one will suspect I lied on my resume and also that I took the rest of Bob's retirement cake from the fridge.

Term: bottom line

Meaning: The exact geographic position of a place I don't want a) kicked, b) a fire lit under or c) canned.

Term: core competency

Meaning: The barest minimum of stuff you should be able to do, good grief, Carol, is this really so hard? It's control-C then control-V.

Term: loop in

Meaning: Tell people what's going on. But why say it like that, like a peasant, for heaven's sake, when you could use a term that evokes visions of a hangman's noose?

Term: lots of moving parts

Meaning: There's so much here that could go wrong, but not in a fun way like with Legos.

Term: mission critical

Meaning: Geez, it would be cool to be an astronaut. Or a Navy SEAL. Man, those cats are the baddest. But hey, it's cool and essential what we're doing here, too, in this office park by the interstate and a Qdoba.

Term: move the needle

Meaning: You know how in submarine dramas when the crew has to do a deep dive to evade the bad guys and the needle on the depth gauge is shakily heading toward the red and everyone's sweating and some pipsqueak, newly assigned to that submarine straight from his mama's loving embrace in Iowa City, is calling out, "1,000 meters... 1,200 meters... 1,500 meters.." and the captain's saying, "Come on come on come on" under his breath and another sailor is rubbing the Star of David on a chain around his neck and mouthing the Kaddish? Let's avoid getting to that point, metaphorically speaking.

Term: negative growth

Meaning: So yeah, we're hemorrhaging money and Steve, can you come in here a sec? And close the door?

Term: next-level thinking

Meaning: What? It's legal in Colorado.

Term: paradigm shift

Meaning: Things were one way and then all of a sudden they were another way and we were all, whoa.

Term: putting out fires

Meaning: Holy Toledo, things have gone south in a hurry. Quick, somebody go down and meet the client at the door — do NOT bring them up here — and take them over to Qdoba. And somebody else, call IT.

Term: reach out

Meaning: I will call or email you, but why on Earth would I just say that? Like a dinosaur? Hello, I think that triceratops took my pager and my rotary phone. Sheesh.

Term: run it up the flagpole

Meaning: I'm going to tell the next person above me in the organizational hierarchy your idea, and if they like it, I'll claim 73 percent of the credit.

Term: scalable solutions

Meaning: Yeahhhh, soooo... we don't want to spend any money on this but we definitely want you to figure out why it isn't working and then fix it, mmm-kay?

Term: stakeholder buy-in

Meaning: Back off, vampires, I'm trying to finish my PowerPoint here.

Rachel Sauer can be emailed at and would love to learn your business jargon translations.

Recommended for you