Business English or Corporate Jargon?

Published by English Evolution on


Understanding business language and corporate jargon can be important if you want to stay in the loop and understand what your associates, partners and clients are saying. It’s also a good way to downplay disappointment, or reduce the impact of bad news.

In many modern work environments, egos often need massaging, and all manner of emotional fragilities are expected to be assuaged. By displacing a word or phrase that may be a little too direct or harsh for the occasion for another with less negative connotations, corporate language can be a useful tool. For press releases, internal memos and public relations, corporate jargon can be used to dull the edge of bad news and mitigate failure behind a veil of what the late, great George Carlin would have called ‘soft language’.


For some people, using the latest fashionable corporate lingo shows that you’re up to date with the linguistic zeitgeist of business language. However, for others, too much corporate jargon is just annoying – even cringeworthy. After all, by their very nature, fashionable things go out of fashion, and so it is with jargon and buzzwords. But with that being said, it is better to have and not need than to need and not have, so here is a list of some of the most used words and phrases in the lexicon of business language that you should know, but not necessarily use.



Aha Moment

An ‘aha moment’ is the same as a ‘eureka moment’ and is used to describe when you suddenly have a significant revelation or important idea. However, while the ‘eureka moment’ has legendary references to the great physicist Isaac Newton and his realisation of the laws of gravity, ‘Aha!’ is more likely to conjure up the pathos of Steve Coogan’s tragi-comic Alan Partridge character. Not a good image!


Bleeding Edges and Thought Showers

Bleeding edge is basically a synonym for the term ‘cutting edge’, which refers to something that is the newest and most innovative in its field or class. So in effect, the term bleeding edge is the most cutting edge version of the term cutting edge that is currently in use. A thought shower (not to be confused with a shower thought) is similar in that it is a direct synonym for ‘brainstorming’ – which I suppose is the equivalent of ‘spitballing’ – which is when a group of people freely throw some ideas around in the hope that something great develops.


Circling Back, Tabling a Conversation and Punting

To circle back on something during a meeting or discussion means to take a break from the topic or matter you are discussing and return to it at a later time. It could also just be a nicer way to say – “This is getting boring, can we move on?”, or “I’m just not that interested in this right now”. However, if somebody suggests “tabling the conversation”, they really aren’t interested in what is a being discussed either now, or in the future; they have effectively punted the idea. In business terms, ‘punting’ an idea or project means that it is being abandoned because it is no longer important or useful. It can also mean to make something less of a priority. Or it could also be a polite way of saying – “This is rubbish, it hasn’t worked, let’s put it to bed and move on”.


Moving the Needle and Jumping the Shark

One of the reasons your boss, line manager or client might want to punt a project or an idea is that it simply isn’t moving the needle. That is to say, whatever it is, it is not getting effective results. When something in business is ‘moving the needle’, it means that it is having a meaningful impact. In contrast, the last thing a company wants to do is jump the shark, because this means that the business, service or product is no longer relevant to their clients, their customers or the public



David Logan, professor of management and organisation at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business once said: “Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, ‘I have an idea. I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you. I want you to embrace it as if you were in on it from the beginning, because that would make me feel really good.’” When business people ask for someone’s ‘buy-in’, or to ‘buy into something’, it is typically a polite way of asking someone to agree to get involved in a decision or course of action that they were not previously consulted on.


Lots of Moving Parts

When business people say something has “a lot of moving parts”, they are using it metaphorically to refer to a system, project or business that is complex. Generally, however, most large businesses have lots of moving parts, so the phrase does seem redundant. However, if we’re talking about a project or an idea, this phrase could also be used as a way of avoiding explaining something in a clear and concise way because the person explaining doesn’t really know how to explain what they’re explaining in a clear and concise way. As Albert Einstein said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”


And there you have just a few examples of some of the common words and phrases that are used in the business world today – but they could change tomorrow! As different words and phrases gain traction (become popular) others jump the shark and fall out of use. But the key takeaway (the main point to remember) is that, while understanding corporate jargon will help you to navigate yourself around the lexicon of business parlance, expressing things in simple terms that everyone can understand is probably the most effective way to communicate.



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