Audio version 6 mins
Last week we touched on the difficulties of working in businesses where you can’t follow management instructions because you can’t understand what they’re talking about.
Even without management buzzwords, the English language is just plain weird.
There are so many expressions that just make no sense. Fiddles aren’t fit. Skunks aren’t drunk. There is no recorded instance of a single whammy, it’s either double or nothing.
And that’s when people get the words right. I’ve been in a client meeting where someone said ‘that was an ad hog decision’. It sounded a lot more fun that what they actually meant. A friend has a manager who says ‘stragedy’, as in ‘marketing stragedy workshop’.
To help ease the confusion, here’s a handy translation guide to 10 random phrases you’ll hear in business, and elsewhere.
- Long Story Short
Nobody who says ‘long story short’ ever said anything that wasn’t painfully long.
Plus they make it longer by saying long story short a few more times as they unfold their epic saga.
Managers like to prove themselves top-shelf leader material AND a Nietzsche-level thinker by swapping ‘existing’ for ‘existential’.
The actual situation: there is a large-ish problem
Regular Management: a large problem exists
Management Genius: we have an existential problem
University is the time to get your look-at-me affectations over and done with, like carrying a volume of Sartre or Camus at all times and pretending you understand what philosophers are talking about. Once you’re a full working adult, give it a rest.
By all means read philosophers in your own time. I’m guessing most of those philosophers would have preferred you quietly put those ideas into action in your own life, rather than clunky name-dropping of great thinkers into your meeting banter.
Speaking of fancy book learnin’, unless you have a physics degree please stop saying ‘quantum’ instead of ‘amount’. As in ‘what quantum of photocopy paper will we require this month?’
- Don’t know what happened there
Under telecommunications law, when a dropped-out phone call or teleconference resumes, it is compulsory to say ‘don’t know what happened there’. Nothing wrong with saying it, just interesting that it always happens, and it never varies by even a single word.
- Sell the sizzle not the steak
I’ve been in marketing pretty much my whole working life I and still don’t understand what this hokey truism means. We all get the difference between features and benefits.
But what kind of freak really wants a ‘sizzle’?
- For Your Perusal
Accountants really like to send documents for my perusal.
What is it about accounts and legal documents that need to be perused, rather than read like material from other departments?
I feel like perusal can’t be done properly without smoking a pipe. In a velvet armchair, in my home library.
- I Hope This Email Finds You Well
I hope you’re well is a good, normal human thing to say. Wishing for emails to find you well gives things a weird, hyper-mannered Emily Bronte vibe, like you might have a butler to open your email for you.
‘What did you think of my email?’
‘Splendid, it found me well.’
‘Oh what a relief.’ *Fans forehead*.
- Sneak Peak
I get PR emails with a ‘sneak peak’ of some new product pretty much every day. It’s #1 on the list of stealth clangers, designed to fly under the spellcheck radar undetected.
Taking it to the next level, some marketers have people waiting for their sneak peak with ‘baited breath’, the fishiest of all the anticipation moods.
- I’m Not Being …
Whatever that thing is they say they’re not being: they’re about to be that.
You can’t prefix your way to diplomatic immunity. It’s like ‘no offence but …’.
Just don’t say that thing you’re not being.
- Common Sense
Common sense is, well, just common sense in that you shouldn’t lick exposed power wiring or give Facebook your phone number.
But mostly when you hear people talk of common sense, what they mean is:
I would like you to see everything my way. I am right, and everyone else in the world feels the same. Sure you’re welcome to your own ideas and opinions, but they are not common sense because they are different to mine.
Since forever, common sense has been the opponent of every new idea. People hate minor change far more than, say, the starvation death of their own descendants in climate disasters that might be only 20 years away, so they’ll say and do anything to avoid it.
But if you’re to get anywhere in business, you’ll be needing some new ideas. Having genuinely good new ideas is quite hard, getting people to recognise them as good is close to impossible.
Don’t let the common sense get you down. It’s not you, it’s them.
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And if you liked this, you might also enjoy LinkedIn’s Top 10 Least Employable Job Titles.