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The Workplace Survival Guide: Buzzwords, Acronyms & Nonsense

Mark Marianelli

If you're going to work in a professional environment then there's no avoiding it, you're going to need to learn the language. Workplaces are like foreign countries, they have their own set of idioms, their own unique cultures and an endless sea of buzzwords and acronyms that will have you scratching your head like a tourist for months until you adapt to the environment.

The following should help you fit in ahead of your newly hired peers and have you blending in to your surroundings in no time.

Sports Analogies

These are the most common, and really they're all pretty much the same, the trick is to not be too obscure in your sports reference. For instance, if your team has done an excellent job on a particular project, would you say they:

A.) Hit a Homerun
B.) Scored a Try
C.) Checkmated it
D.) Got a nice Birdie

Obviously the answer is A. It's not that anybody wouldn't understand B (most would pretend they do so as not to be outed as less than the Ultimate Sports Geek), but it's better to limit your analogies to more generic sports like Football, Baseball and Basketball.

The following is a list of acceptable sports terms for everyday situations, both positive and negative:

✓  Slam Dunk

✓  Home Run (Interchangeable with Grand Slam or Knocked out of the Park)

✓  Touchdown

✓  Hole-in-One

✓  Fumble

✓  Strike

✓  Miss the Mark

✓  Swing and a Miss

✓  Ball's in your Court

On the flip side, not ALL sports analogies are necessarily GOOD ones. Try to avoid the following:

✕  Baby Split

✕  Crotch Serve

✕  Stick & Ball

✕  Pony Goal

✕  Icing

✕  Back Row Attack

✕  Jungle Ball

✕  Banana Kick

There's a billion sports with a billion terms, know your crowd and choose wisely!

Buzzwords & Common Phrases

Ugh… There's just no way around this nonsense. If you want to sound like you know what you're doing, you just have to use these. 90% of the time, people don't actually know what they're saying, but regardless, what they're saying somehow makes sense because it's common terminology. So here's a few words and phrases to throw into your BS arsenal as well as what they actually mean (as opposed to what people THINK they mean):

1. "To your point" - I hear this one on a daily basis, and it's clear that nobody in my office knows what it actually means to say it. It is MEANT to be an affirmation of a point made earlier by somebody other than yourself, but all too often it gets used to merely defer back to said point, not necessarily agree with it. I've even heard it used to disagree with that point! e.g. - "And to your point, I disagree." – This is wrong, but good luck correcting the offender as odds are they're higher up than you on the food chain… That and you would just sound like a colossal tool.

2. "I tend to agree with you" - This phrase annoys me most of all. Saying that you "tend to" anything implies that you have a habitual and recorded history of such tendencies. So to say that you "tend to agree" with something means that it has come up before and you agreed with it then as well. That's a bold claim and it makes you sound predictable. Rather than using this stupid phrase, replace "I tend to" with "I am inclined to". It sounds more educated.

3. "From a(n) ____ perspective" - If you hear this phrase, somebody is about to argue a point using the defense that it will benefit their end of the business. So if you're a designer, you would say that "from a visual perspective" it works better this way, while the developer in the room will argue against your statement saying that "from an IT perspective" it works better another way. This isn't necessarily an effective weapon to have in your argumentative arsenal, but it's great for starting an infinite loop of useless debates that can only be stopped when someone speaks up and says, "From an I'm your boss perspective". They win every time.

4. "Make it pop" / "Amp it up" - Only manager-types use phrases like this because it's as vague as it is uncompromising. This is generally used specifically towards designers and in a nutshell it means - "It's boring, try using purple" (purple being interchangeable with whatever color ISN'T in your brand guidelines).

5. "No worries" - People say this when you've screwed up… And it means that you should probably worry.

6. Hard Stop - This term is something you'll typically only hear from people at higher levels of management. It means that at a specific time you will have to leave a meeting, mid-conversation if needed. The reason this term is used at all is because most meetings, regardless of how long they're scheduled for, will inevitably run over their allotted time. Higher-ups are infamous for their overlapping meetings (see Identifying Higher-ups), so in order to make as many meetings as possible, they require the use of this term to tell people, "Hey, don't waste my time, I'm out once this meeting's scheduled time is up". The reason only higher-ups get to use this term should be obvious, but just in case it isn't, I dare you to tell your boss that you have a hard stop during your monthly review. I dare you.

7. Tertiary -  Primary, Secondary, Tertiary. Meaning a third level of importance. People only use this term because they know at some point somebody is going to ask what the heck this word means, and they can then proceed to drop knowledge on that person like a steaming hot political poop - thus solidifying their rank of septenary importance. Don't know what septenary means? Don't worry, neither do they.

8. Affordance - It's official definition is "a visual clue to the function of an object" - which is appropriate when discussing how a button is designed, or where an object is placed in a layout. However this word will get thrown around with a few different meanings, mainly when describing the mere level of noticeability of an object. If you hear it used, don't assume it means what it's supposed to, pay attention to HOW it's used… Honestly, you'll probably get by just fine in whatever meeting you're in by just ignoring this word when it gets used. You could say this word carries little affordance. Wait, can you say that? Who knows, it's a stupid word anyway.

9. SEO - Search Engine Optimization. If you hear these initials thrown around, it's more or less referring to how often Google is going to present your website upon every search humanly imaginable. I guess you can think of it as the new "synergy" - Useful concept, overused buzzword.

10. Cognizant - Rather than saying to “keep in mind” or “be aware” or even the ultra simple, “think about it”, some people like to use this word to emphasize their intellect. One thing I’ve found is that this word spreads like a wildfire if kept unchecked. If just one person uses this phrase in an office where the term has never been used, give it about a week and you’ll inevitably hear it used 3 or 4 times per meeting, whether it applies or not.

11. The Ask - I officially give you permission to slap anybody who uses this one, whether boss or peer. The Ask is a really pointless way of saying "the request".  You'll hear it used like this: "What is the ask for this project?", it will then more likely be followed by me turning to puke inside my recycling bucket... I couldn't reach my trash bucket in time. They say texting is causing the English language to be butchered, well I'm convinced that office lingo is far more detrimental to our grammatical well being. Please do me a personal favor and stop this one before it spreads any further.


No, I'm not going to give you a list of acronyms and what they mean. There's just far too many and there's a good chance you'd almost be disappointed to find out what things REALLY stand for. All that can really be said about office acronyms is that their meaning is 100% irrelevant. A project's initials mean nothing to the point that the initials become a name themselves. If you read a project charter, you've already learned everything you need to know about said project. You know its purpose and you know its history, so who cares what the name is? I still to this day don't know what NBC stands for, but I know it's a tv station and I know what shows to expect from it. The same logic can and should be applied to work. Even if you did know what the acronym stood for, you'd still call it by the acronym because it's just easier. Think of it as verbal shorthand.

Well I hope your mind and your tongue have been sharpened and ready to verbally attack the office world... Not verbally attack like being a potty mouth, but speaking of potties (forced transition!), be sure to check back in for my next segment in the Workplace Survival Guide: "Bathroom Etiquette".

With love,
~ M.

Keep in mind, this is all strictly satirical - If you're actually taking workplace advice from a guy that makes video games about 'Rock Paper Scissors', then you probably shouldn't be working in an environment where your actions impact an actual business. Okay? Good? Let's all laugh and make the most of our daily grind together.