Boardroom buzz words that make my hair hurt

Just came out of a strategy meeting with my hair hurting, teeth grinding, and a renewed appreciation for simplicity in language — and thought. Indeed, as Geoffrey James maintains, language can shape thought. That’s why “fuzzy language” leads to “fuzzy” thinking, he says.

James, a contributing editor at, has written extensively on the neuroscience of word usage and perception. In his piece on Train Your Brain to Think More Clearly he says,

If you habitually use fuzzy, ill-defined words crammed into long and convoluted sentences, you’re training your brain–and the brains of your team members–to think less clearly. Confusion is also contagious.

That may explain why I left the meeting in a daze. (Actually, that only explains part of my confusion. The rest was due to a surfeit of political posturing and an absence of new ideas. But I digress …)

In an effort to remove some of the ill-effects from this encounter — and in the always-noble pursuit of clear language and thinking — I offer up some of the newest inductees into the corporate buzz speak “Hall of Shame” below — courtesy of

And, just for fun, if you should find your mind numbing to the drone of corporate jargon at a future meeting, try making it a “win-win” with this Buzz Speak Bingo Card.

Actionable [adj.]: Originally a legal word referring to anything that affords grounds for a lawsuit. In business speak, it’ s anything on which action can be taken.

Bifurcate [v.]: An overly complex word that HR uses when splitting your position into two separate jobs. Feel free to reapply for either of them.

Biome, Ecosystem, or Ecosphere: Environment or market. “We just can’t justify full-time hires in today’s regulatory biome.”

Boiling the ocean [v.]: Attempting to do something with too broad a scope. This is generally in reference to a project or initiative to avoid. “The client is living a pipe dream; when are they going to stop trying to boil the ocean?”

Cadence [n.]: A far too poetic way to describe how often a scheduled event is repeated. “If we just hit the right cadence on our sprint meetings…”

Circle-back [v.]: To revisit an issue. “I’m heading to lunch now, but let’s circle-back Friday am.”

Curate [v.]: Adds a whiff of sophistication to any mundane selection process. “As Chief Social Media Jedi, you’ll be deeply involved in curating our Pinterest identity.”

Deep dive [n.]:An in-depth study.

Deploy [v.] Execute; release to the public. Makes the speaker feel like he’s planning D-Day instead of some insipid PR launch.

Dialogue [v.]: To have a conversation; talk.  “Let’s dialogue later bout the Miller account.”

Drink from the fire hose [v.]: To be overwhelmed with information.

Drink the Kool-aid [v.]: To accept company policy without question. [An unfortunate reference to the Jim Jones mass suicide in Guyana.]

Drop-dead date [n.]: The REAL deadline. Missing it often means dire consequences.

Gatekeeper [n.]: A person who controls the flow of visitors and information to/from management. You should “do lunch” with this person.

Hard stop [n.]: The non-negotiable end of a meeting. Usually announced at the start. “Clients are visiting this afternoon so we have a hard stop at two.”

Ideation [n.]: An overused portmanteau of “idea” and “creation.” Psychologists have a legitimate use for this word. You probably don’t.

Lens [n.]: A point of view; a corporate microscope. “I want to make sure that we’re looking at this through the right lens.”

Level-set [v.]: To ensure that everyone is at the same ‘level’ of understanding. “You better level-set your team before you send them on-site.”

Leverage [v.]: To make use of a resource. (What’s wrong with “use”?)

Net-net [n.]: The verbally communicated summary of a lengthy event. “Just give me the net-net of your conversation with the client.”

Offline [adj.]: Used in business meetings to reference a more detailed discussion that won’t involve the whole group. “Let’s dialogue about these issues offline.”

Operationalize [v.]: To do. (Now was that so hard?)

Low-hanging fruit [n.]:Relatively simple problems that can be addressed with minimal effort.

Ping [n.]: To contact or notify. “Ping the boss about this one later.”

Put to bed [v.]: To conclude something. “We just need to put these last issues to bed.”

Pull up [v.]: Meet together later about an issue, just as a car pulls up alongside another car perhaps?

Rightsizing [v.]: A gentler way to refer to downsizing. Suggests that a round of layoffs is simply a labor surplus correction, rather than a symptom of deep financial problems.

Run it up the flagpole [exp.]: To find out what colleagues think of a new idea. This is roughly equivalent to the next entry – to “socialize” something.

Socialize [v.]: To facilitate group discussions about an issue. “Let’s give them time to socialize the new material with their teams.”

Speak to [v.]: To address. “Yield the floor, sir, and I will speak to your point!”

Swim lane [n.]: Field of responsibility. “Listen, client management just isn’t in my swim lane.”

Talk to [v.]: A self-important way of saying ‘talk about’. “I’m going to talk to the issues raised last week.”

Tasked [v.]: To be given an assignment. “I’ve been tasked with bringing coffee to the meeting.”

Value-add [exp.]: A typical biz speak reversal of ‘added value.’ “We have to evaluate the value-add of this activity before we drop any more money.”

Vision [n.]: The bold leadership direction that every manager claims, even if it changes every two weeks.

Win-win [n.]: A mutually beneficial arrangement for two parties. While the better negotiator is probably still at an advantage, both leave the table feeling great about it.

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