More than a year ago, I complained about those who use business jargon. These words and phrases continue to haunt me. Bear with me while I create a scenario.
A big-time business tycoon is speaking to a large audience of businesspeople. (Do people still use “business tycoon”? I searched for the phrase on The Washington Post website and received only 1,322 hits. And a surprising number of those articles were obituaries. Anyway …) The listeners have a range of business experience, from first job in business to corporate executive.
The tycoon talks about ways to move the needle in a big way.
The rookie in the audience hears this and his eyes dart around the room. He thinks, “What is he talking about?” He discreetly checks his phone to find the meaning of the phrase. The phrase “move the needle” means to have enough of an effect that people notice a change.
He thinks, “I have to remember this one.”
The guy who has been in the business world for a couple of years has heard this phrase before and is pretty excited that he recognizes it. It means he’s in. He understands the talk, and so he must be fantastic at his job. If the room weren’t packed, he’d lift a fist and say, “Yes!”
The person who has decades of business experience has heard phrases like this long enough. He so wants to roll his eyes, but if someone in charge catches it, he may well get a pay cut or worse.
And the person who is in management has embraced phrases like this and uses them in meetings all the time. (OK, I have no proof that embracing these affects one’s career arc.)
I’ll add one comment about “move the needle.” One business publication specified that when you move the needle, you must move the same needle that your boss seeks to move. So, if your boss wants to increase sales by 5%, and you prefer to work on making sure all staples are horizontal on the paper and not diagonal, you might not hold that job for long.
Back to the tycoon. He talks about growing one’s business.
If I were in the audience, I’d now storm off. You can grow plants, but in fact they grow on their own. You can grow hair, but really it grows whether you want it to or not. But you can’t grow a business. Grow is an intransitive verb, meaning it doesn’t need a direct object. A business might grow if you’re doing the right things and circumstances allow for it.
Please note that many people say “grow” can be both transitive and intransitive. This is one of the many language issues that people will always disagree about.
Buy-in: Is it time to move on from the tycoon? OK, have you ever been asked for a buy-in on some big change in the business?
Asking someone for a buy-in means someone had an idea and didn’t consult with everyone affected. But now that it’s out there, others must go along. When a boss asks for buy-in, you know you had better go along. It’s more of an order than a request.
Customer journey: Oh, my goodness. That sounds pretentious.
When I go to the store to buy eggs and milk, I am taking a journey. When I pick up medication at the pharmacy, I am taking a journey. Who knew my weekly chores were so romantic?
This journey gets documented for businesspeople to study. They then make a customer journey map. Where are you, Carmen Sandiego?
Retargeting: “Retargeting” sounds pretty nefarious to me. It means to show an ad or a product to a person who has visited your site but hasn’t bought anything. The idea is to lure you back.
I did a couple of random searches on Google recently to see whether those items show up later in my inbox or as an ad on an online game.
Freemium: This is the practice of offering a basic form of a product for no charge. But if you want to upgrade that product, you have to pay. I nearly always stick with the free and skip the mium.
Wheelhouse: Is this skill in your wheelhouse? I’m not sure. First, I need to look up the word wheelhouse. A wheelhouse is where one pilots a boat. OK, I have never piloted a boat, but maybe I can do what you need without getting seasick.
Take offline: Suppose you bring up a topic at a meeting, and the boss says that matter should be taken offline. This would either make me think that you’ve said something embarrassing that the boss doesn’t want to talk about with others around, or that it is so dumb that the boss will not waste anyone’s time on the topic. Let’s hope the boss explains the reason when you two are, indeed, offline.
Lots of moving parts: Many, many things have a lot of moving parts. My theory is that people use this phrase when they don’t want to change things, under the premise that it’s just too complicated. But it also might be used by a person who doesn’t really want to explain too much, maybe suggesting that the listener isn’t smart enough to grasp such concepts.
Peel the onion: An onion doesn’t have a lot of moving parts. When people get the task of peeling an onion, they have to study a problem. What’s wrong with simply researching or examining?
Pivot: A company pivots when the current strategy isn’t working. It sounds so calming. I guess it’s gentler than saying, “We messed up. We had a terrible idea. We’ll never succeed this way.”
Empower: When your boss empowers you, you will get to do something terribly important. Are you fooled? Forbes magazine calls this “the most condescending transitive verb ever,” and I have to agree.
Thought shower: And my least favorite jargon of all time: thought shower. It’s the same as brainstorming, except you apparently allow your thoughts to gently sprinkle down in the conversation.
Its origin is hard to believe. More than a decade ago, a business group in Ireland decided that the term ”brainstorming” might offend epileptics, and so someone created the phrase “thought shower.” The shower part is pronounced like the thing you take in the bath.
An epilepsy charity in Britain decided to ask the people with epilepsy what they thought. Most — 93% — of the people with epilepsy said the term wasn’t at all offensive, “and many felt that this sort of political correctness singled out people with epilepsy as being easily offended.”
People are still using the phrase, though. Why let facts get in the way of a good buzzword?
Sources include Merriam-Webster, The Washington Post, Healthcare Success, Bluleadz, ReserchGate, Medium, ThinkBusiness.ie, Forbes, Metro, Epilepsy Action. Reach Bernadette at