12 most supercilious corpspeak terms

From “synergy” to “scalable” to “ping,” here are some of the most atrocious examples of corporate speak—and their translations.


If you’ve sat through a few business meetings in your professional life, you’ve heard speakers who pad their speeches with corporate speak.

Some people doodle when they are bored. I do tallies of corporate speak.

I have been known to amass seven “leverages,” three “synergies,” an “actionable,” and a “non-harmonized” all in one two-hour meeting!

Why do speakers force themselves to use more syllables than necessary to get their points across? To use another corporate-speak term, perhaps they see themselves as “thought leaders” and think this type of language bolsters that identity.

Here are 12 of the worst offenders:

1. Synergy

People say this if they want people with complementary talents or resources to find a way to do something that would be impossible without working together.

Translation: “You have something I need. I have something you need. Let’s make something great together.”

2. Leverage

People say this if they want to use something that has already been done, bought or said to move a project forward without having to start from scratch.

Translation: “Joe already has his project management certification. Let’s take advantage of that instead of paying for someone else to get theirs.”

3. Pedagogy

The person who says this is someone in the field of education who chose to use four syllables when two would do: “teaching.”

Translation: “Teaching educates students.”

4. Deep dive

This is a legitimate IT term that means to immerse a group quickly into a topic to brainstorm an idea or solve a problem. But as a layperson in meetings where people use the term, it always makes me giggle a tiny bit and lose track of my corporate-speak tick marks.

Translation: “Let’s all think quickly and rapidly about this concept so we can get some good ideas going.”

5. Scalable

People say this when they want the work done in step one to be something they can make bigger and easier without recreating the wheel. Like “deep dive,” it is legitimate in IT.

Translation: “We’re going to program this function for your 10 users, but if the idea catches on and a million users want to do the same thing, it will be easy to do that.”

6. Ping

Someone who wants to communicate with someone else quickly and electronically without looking him in the eyes says this. There’s no translation, but if you really want to throw someone off, walk two doors down to his desk and look him in the eyes.

7. Actionable

The person who says this is someone who is seriously hoping what he wrote on paper will, in reality, work.

Translation: “It will work.”

8. Mitigate

People say this if they are facing a lengthy Gantt chart or project plan, and seriously hope to prevent something from derailing progress.

Translation: “Let’s make sure things don’t go wrong.”

9. Granularity

This is what the person taking the deep dive has to wade—or swim—through: a bunch of very specific details.

Translation: “You will need to read 200 pages in that work plan to make sure there is a plan to close the door when it gets cold outside.”

10. Seamless

People say this in public programs where the goal is for fifteen entities to make it look like they are one from the client’s end. Seamless doesn’t happen often. When it does, there’s a lot of hard work going on in the background.

Translation: “It took five entities with lengthy names to make your ‘one-stop’ application a reality. Five more will handle it before you get an answer.”

11. In the weeds

This is where you are while you deal with granularity and are on the verge of taking a deep dive. It is where you are threatened with losing sight of the main objective.

Translation: “While you are re-writing a letter no one will need to receive for two years, someone else is getting credibility points for saying, ‘Let’s break this process down into manageable pieces. The weeds are a bad place to be unless you have a way out.'”

12. Robust

This means we want to keep the contract—we really do. We have a plan.

Translation: “Our plan/project/product is no lightweight.”

“Thought leaders” like syllables; they like sounding like the next best thing.

Me?

I prefer someone who leads with her thoughts, but tells me about them in plain English.

Is there a particular corporate term that irritates you? Here are some tired, old phrases. What plain English alternatives do you recommend?

Paula Kiger works for a non-profit corporation and blogs at BigGreenPen.com. This article is republished with permission, courtesy of 12 Most.

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