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A “paradigm shift”, or something.

I took four years of French in High School and, if stranded on the Champs-Élysées today, I wouldn’t be able to order dinner. It’s not that I’m incompetent (not entirely), I just don’t use the language every day. Why? Because it’s not necessary for my environment and I can communicate easier by using a language that everyone around me understands. It’s the same reason that I cringe at catchphrases.

To make sure we’re “all on the same page”, a business catchphrase is a vogue expression, recreated into jargon.  While it’s intended to make the speaker sound more “in the know”, it often ends up backfiring and disorienting the listener. In extreme cases, it makes the speaker sound like a tool. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a list of phrases that have “run their course” and should be retired in an attempt to make office meetings clearer, business documents more intelligible, and colleagues better able to understand each other. Maybe one day, someone will publish a catchphrase rule book. Until then, we can only look to each other to safeguard our vernacular.

  • “Right-sizing.” This is a media-friendly way of saying “we screwed up. It will cost some jobs, but not ours.”
  • “It is what it is.” This often indicates that the respondent isn’t happy, and the speaker doesn’t care. Everyone hates this one.
  • “We’ll take this offline.” If you want to create a bad vibe, use this generic phrase during a conference call. If you have to exclude people from certain information, don’t be a jerk by being hip about it.
  • “Step up to the plate.” This is a good one for squeezing that last bit of productivity out of an employee. Also great for obliterating one’s self-esteem, much like…
  • “Think outside the box.” By saying this, you are confirming that every idea this person has developed throughout the tenure of their employment has been, quite simply, stupid.
  • “Ownable.” This is not even a word. Seriously, look it up. This is often used in branding presentations and sales pitches as a replacement for “charging more for no good reason”.
  • “Not so much.” Exactly.
  • “Version x.0”. This phrase is inherently dorky, yet necessary to tech-related products like software and devices. However, using it unnecessarily to promote a person, business, etc. magnifies the dork factor exponentially.

There’s my shortlist. Any that you can think of?

Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.


  • Eva says:

    Here’s some really bad stuff from Holland (in translation)
    1. Enjoy! Makes you want to do the exact opposite (Annoy!) I prefer to decide for myself when and where to do my enjoying, thanks.
    In Holland, lots of people admonish you before a particularly joyful occasion with a heartfelt: “Take care to enjoy yourself!”
    2. Passionate (As in: we are passionate about (design/food/client service) or even worse: I have a passion for etc.
    3. Just put it in an email (when you’re asking someone a question and they can’t be bothered to answer right away.)

  • Stan says:

    Dude, this is hilarious. Nice work. Let’s talk “online” at DD’s tomorrow. ^_^

  • I can see that you are an expert at your field! I am launching a website soon, and your information will be very useful for me.. Thanks for all your help and wishing you all the success.

  • You are “Right ON!” OOOPS! are we stuck in this stuff or not? When I was in the big corporate world (first 25 years of my career)This fashionable communication process became a competition! The best boss I ever had dismissed it in a crude but effective manner. He would simply look at you and say “if you mean s—- say s—-!

  • Jim says:

    Great job (however painful)!!! Just reminded me of the hundred e-mails I’ll be reading monday AM from all the “LASER FOCUSED” corporate clowns trying to figured out a way to think outside the box. Isn’t that an oxymoron?

  • Paul says:

    You may have heard of this one… ‘we are “diametrically opposed” on that idea’ simply means your idea sucks..

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