Corporate Lingo


From elementary school through college, I learned standard English writing and speaking. But when I started working, I noticed there was something different about the language people spoke and wrote in the corporate world and the one I was taught in school. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but the jargon felt impersonal, verbose, bombastic, and loved nouns rather than verbs.

Here are some examples of sentences I’ve heard people utter with a straight face at work:

  • What’s the ask?
  • Our win of the week was…
  • After doing an A/B test, our learnings are…
  • The deliverable is forthcoming.
  • We are waiting for sign-off.

Why do we pervert perfectly good verbs into dreadful nouns? What’s wrong with

  • What does he want?
  • Our achievement this week was…
  • After doing an A/B test, we learned…
  • I will send the result to you soon.
  • Do you approve?

To fit into a corporate setting, be verbose and bombastic.

  • “We can get the deck turned around tomorrow.” instead of “We can give you the updated deck tomorrow.”
  • “The layout will be leveraged for all other workstreams.” instead of “Everybody will use the same f**king layout.”
  • “Please flag anything you might want to escalate.” vs “Tell us if you’re worried about anything.”
  • “Let’s talk offline.” (People have said this to me in person. What do they even mean? Aren’t we already offline?)

Blatantly misuse words.

  • “Please revert with comments.” vs “Please comment.”

And finally, just make up words that sound like Newspeak.

  • “Let’s future-think our mobile design.”

How about “buy-in” or “ideation” or “react” as a noun? People also say “we” when they really mean “you” as in “We should do this.” ie “You should do this.” This usually occurs when speaking to subordinates.

I’m reminded of George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” essay in which he criticized political language for being vague and meaningless. He called this kind of language a “contagion” and encouraged people instead to write and speak with concreteness and clarity.

I’m also reminded of the Java programming language which loves nouns instead of verbs. Here’s a fun explanation by Steve Yegge titled “Execution in the Kingdom of Nouns.”