Let bygones be fuck you: An innocent’s guide to corporatespeak

Abuse of language makes my hair stand on end and my stomach burn. These days, to make a living, I have to hear English skewered by jargon nonstop. So it’s time I made a blog post about it, damn it! That will make everything better. Ha ha.

Anyway. For most of my life I’ve managed to get by without having to resort to a Real Job; the closest I’ve had preceeding these dark days of hyper-globalism was working at a newspaper, where people would regularly come to work shoeless, shirtless, and/or wearing pyjamas, and only the North Shore bitches who were busily invading the place used euphemisms when they were pissed off. (One of them wound up getting one of the last fellows standing in classic Chicago journalism fired for telling her what he thought of her work, but that’s another long, long story.)

After the recession of aught-eight, the only jobs I could find were minimum wage restaurant work and Corporate Dronedom. I tried the former first, but christ, I’m getting too old for that shit! I need health insurance. I don’t need to slip on a greasy kitchen floor without it. So, off to corpoland I went.

It was not the world’s smoothest transition. If there’s anyone more wont to speak his mind than an old-fashioned newsman, it’s a goddamned line cook. For most of my life I’ve been able to fondly insult my coworkers all day long. And not being clear about what’s going wrong can cost everybody a reeaaaaaally shitty lunch rush.

The corporate world is very different. You never know what anyone is thinking or feeling, and they don’t want you to know. But they DO want to be able to use their emotions to manipulate your behavior. 

For those of you who, like me, wandered into the corporate world with no experience of how these people communicate, this can be confusing as hell—and you’ll wind up making enemies without even knowing it. (You’ll find out weeks later that so-and-so hates your guts, and after months of trying to make nice with her you STILL don’t know what you did wrong, etc.)

So, for the benefit of anyone who comes behind me, here’s a handy guide to office euphemisms. Knowing the true intention behind these oft-abused words is crucial to your ability to fly under the radar and not attract the ire of god knows who. As annoying as these poor, stomped-on words are to think about, I only wish someone else who had gone into this thicket ahead of me had provided me with such a guide. You’re welcome.

NOTE: This guide will start out short, because work has been rough lately and my memory is shorting out. But I will add phrases and translations as I recall them or run across them. Suggestions in the comments section are very welcome and will be added to the main body of the text with your name cited.

Let’s start with the passive-aggressive classic:

1. “MOVING FORWARD.”

Usually appears in a sentence such as: “This was incorrect, and moving forward I would like you to x, y, and z.”

Apparent translation: “I’m going to let bygones be bygones, and let’s just improve things in the future.”

Real translation: “I’m pretending I want to let bygones be bygones, but inside I’m simmering with resentment of your stupidity/slackerdom, and I will leap on the first opportunity to ream you out again that I can find.”

2. “Let’s chat.”

Apparent translation: “Let’s chat.”

Real translation: “I am so pissed off at you. Now let’s have a tense conversation about how we’re going to fix your screw-up.”

3. “I’m confused.”

Apparent translation: “I’m not sure what’s going on, maybe I don’t understand something.”

Real translation: “I know exactly what you did wrong and I’m pissed off at you, but I want you to admit it out loud yourself so you’ll be extra humiliated.”

4. “We need to speak to the client more formally.”

Translation: “Don’t ever speak to the client again without a normal person’s supervision. I don’t care if you didn’t use any swear words, you still managed to come off as a lunatic.”

5. “Timing is our hurdle at the moment.”

Apparent translation: God only knows what someone wants you to think when they say this.

Actual translation: “I have a cushy job. In fact, it’s so cushy that when I do actually have to do something, I forget to do it. Then I suddenly remember, and have a panic attack, and now you schmucks who are responsible for actually doing things will be working at my frantic behest till 8 PM for a few days to meet the deadline I’ve known about for three months.”

6. (Supplied by Unknown): “Think of it as a challenge.”

Actual translation: “I know this is a shit detail, but by God you are going to do it and like it.”

7. “It is what it is.”

Apparent translation: “I am a hardy stoic philosopher.”

Real translation: “Suck it up, peon. Thank god I’m such a good bullshitter that I don’t actually have to deal with this.”

8. “Let’s regroup.”

Apparent translation: “Let’s get together and sort this out like adults.”

Actual translation: “Oh my god, we’re so fucked. We should really just put our heads down, but instead let’s take the time to figure out who to blame.”

9. (From Mr. Misanthrope): “empower”

 Have always thought that the oddest bit of corporate jargon involves the word “empower” (as in a manager saying “I am empowering you to …”). Is the boss going to consecrate a talisman or lay-on hands? Such implicit notions of psychic energy demonstrate that an office job is really something closer to a religious cult.

Comments

  1. Anonymous

    So many amens to all this. I work in government, but it's the same there. I thought for years there was something wrong with me because co-workers kept stabbing me in the back and I would never see it coming. Why would I? We seemed to get along, I never did anything to them. So what could they possibly have against me, amirite? Guess I just wasn't indoctrinated enough into The Corporate Way, or their out-of-left-field behavior would totally have made sense /sarcasm.

    I am, unfortunately, guilty of using #3 though, because passive aggression is the only way I can question my superiors' actions without getting in trouble–which by itself, is enough of a condemnation of these toxic environments.

    Alex

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      Author
      Ann Sterzinger

      "passive aggression is the only way I can question my superiors' actions without getting in trouble–which by itself, is enough of a condemnation of these toxic environments."

      Indeed! There's something very filthy and discouraging about the feeling you get when you realize that if you can't manage to coat yourself with SOME measure of protective slime, you're going to be eaten for lunch…

  2. Mr. Mean-Spirited

    Have always thought that the oddest bit of corporate jargon involves the word “empower” (as in a manager saying “I am empowering you to …”). Is the boss going to consecrate a talisman or lay-on hands? Such implicit notions of psychic energy demonstrate that an office job is really something closer to a religious cult.

    1. Post
      Author

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