The Latest Annoying Business Clichés

Businesspeople like catchy phrases. They can add color to one’s language, convey a concept in a few words, and indicate that one is an “insider” in a business field.

But it does not take long for favored business expressions to become stale with overuse and the passing of time. At that point, business lingo can be a liability rather than an asset.

Mary Cullen of Instructional Solutions routinely polls a wide range of businesspeople to find out which phrases they find particularly annoying. For 2011, these were the top 11 winners (or losers):

  1. At the end of the day
  2. 30,000 foot view
  3. Give 110%
  4. Think outside the box
  5. FYI
  6. 800-pound gorilla
  7. Throw under the bus
  8. My bad
  9. Right-sizing
  10. Reaching out
  11. Low-hanging fruit

She singled out one that particularly bothers her: “going forward.” “Where else would we go?” she asks—“backward?”

Other common expressions are so outdated that they aren’t used enough anymore to make a current list—“world class,” “cutting edge,” and “groundbreaking,” for example (“The Gobbledygook Manifesto”). Some, such as “net-net” and “thought leaders,” are still in use but are already starting to be annoying.

As Harvard professor Marjorie Garber points out, “jargon marks the place where thinking has been.” Clichés catch on because they capture a useful thought. But before long, they start to sound like a substitute for thinking.

Chances are that your students haven’t even heard many of the expressions that businesspeople are already growing tired of; for example, mine weren’t familiar with “low-hanging fruit.” That means that our students, once they’re on the job, run the risk of using old expressions that seem fresh to them.

Periodically discussing the status of various business clichés will help us prepare our students to use such expressions with care–or shall I say “with intentionality”?

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