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December 14, 2006

Viral, Virulent, Virile

Working in corporate America, and especially, in consulting, buzz words are a way of life. Annoying, irritating, nonsensical, preposterous, ridiculous; these are all adjectives that might be used to describe the so-called business speak. As far as I can tell, no one enters the business world using business speak; it's not nature, it's nurture. Like an insidious virus that may lay dormant for years after contraction, only to emerge virulently, and at the most inopportune time (i.e., a week before your wedding—oh wait, different virus), business speak is something that develops slowly, but rages potently once mature.

The virus is contracted aurally within minutes of starting work, but may lay dormant for months, or even years, until at some irrelevant meeting or on some meaningless conference call, it emerges. You make a preposterous statement: let's take this offline. BAM! HIV is now AIDS. You may not even recognize it at the moment—few ever do—but your life is already over. You are one of them now. Life ceases to have meaning. More and more of your communications become irrational; nonsense becomes your life. You aren't even worth the air your breathe.

I am no saint. I haven't managed to avoid it. I too have been infected, like countless before—and sadly—after me. Every once in a while, a preposterous phrase will emerge from my mouth too, and with it, deep regret at what I have become. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I try to contain the urge to make meaningless statements, but it's hard. Colloquialisms have a nasty habit of becoming a part of our vocabulary, regardless of whether they add value or not (ha!). Luckily, my condition is not yet terminal. I've only been working for a year. However, based on my limited experience, I would like to share with you all the top ten most annoying, obnoxious, and/or ridiculous statements I have encountered thus far in my time in corporate America, so that upon hearing one, those who are not yet infected might run for dear life. Below you will find a list, in no particular order.

  • Caucus, or meeting (e.g., Let's caucus in the AM); I don't know about you all, but this word makes me think of a smoke-filled hotel room with old white men choosing a dark-horse candidate for president (John Tyler anyone?), but maybe that's just me. Either way, it has no place in business; leave the caucusing to the politicians, please.
  • Leverage, or plagiarize (e.g., John out in NYC has a bunch of marketing materials we could leverage for this pitch.); seriously, if you're going to use someone else's work without giving them credit, could we at least not have ridiculous euphemisms to justify it?
  • Touch Base, or renew communication (e.g., Let's touch base next week after you've worked on this report.); when did we start playing baseball here?
  • Let's Take This Offline, or talk individually after a meeting (e.g., I'll catch up with you offline.); maybe I'm being naive here, but to my knowledge, in a physical meeting, there is no line, so what the hell does offline mean?!
  • Ping, or contact (e.g., I'll ping him this afternoon.); my guess is most who use this phrase have no idea what ICMP is, let alone an ICMP echo request. Whoever thought this was a clever phrase to introduce into the business lexicon is an idiot.
  • Baked In, or to include in a final product (e.g., Let's bake this into our deliverable.); please forgive me, but what exactly are we baking in producing a document?
  • Cross-pollinate, or merge groups (e.g., We haven't yet had a chance to cross-pollinate with the other team.); the first time I heard this, I nearly fell out of my chair. Is it just me, or is thinly veiled sexual innuendo just not funny when it's about plants?
  • Holding Pattern, or cease action and await instructions (e.g., We're in a holding pattern here until we hear from the client.); was this phrase first used by some dumb ass who didn't make it into the Air Force?
  • Circle Back, or renew communication at a later date and time (e.g., I'll circle back with her tomorrow.); I hear this one so often, it's a surprise everyone has not yet fallen down nauseous from all that circling. I once heard someone use it five times in two minutes. Ridiculous.
  • COB, or Close of Business, generally 5 p.m. local time (e.g., I need this done by COB. Thanks!); I especially appreciate how this phrase appears most often in e-mails sent at 4:15 p.m.

Don't come to me with problems, Rohit; come to me with solutions, you might say. So, there's a huge virus infecting all who work in corporate America. How do we stop it?

Sadly, I do not foresee a solution any time soon. Once infected, it is extremely unlikely that a person can be cured. The most obvious solution—eliminating all infected parties—though attractive, is certainly not feasible. Plus, given the virulent nature of the virus, it is unlikely that a vaccine or other form of resistance can be engineered. We must resign ourselves to live with it, and try hard to resist. The battle will inevitably be lost, but fighting the good fight is necessarily worth it.


Hahaha, I didn't know ping was used like that.

At my work, people like to use "brotha," "exercise in [insert negative noun]," and "dun" in place of "don't" when "doesn't" is supposed to be used, e.g. "It dun matta!" I found myself saying these things to my gf last night and was slightly disturbed.

Yes, let's hang out soon. I'll be on San Diego for the next two weekends (I have to return to the bay to work the day after Christmas!!!), so maybe I'll see you in January.

I will admit, I use ping but I actually have to literally ping them multiple times to make sure they are alive and doing what I asked them to do. I would assume most people understand an ICMP request at work.

You totally forgot "sync up," which I occasionally use as well.

"Let's sync up next week to see if you have made any progress on this and determine our future course of action.

Some of the ones you listed are just horrible and should never leave the realm of high school debate or MUN. Keep the buzzwords there and out of my head.

I've heard/seen Touch Base, Let's Take This Offline, Ping, Holding Pattern, and COB. Funny, I always thought ping was a term adopted in the techie world and not in the larger business world.

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