21 irritating jargon phrases, and new clichés you should replace them with


mallard-ducklings-938666_960_720Hi everyone. Thanks for buying NWB merchandise this past week (it pays for the hosting of this blog. And also grant-rejection tequila). Sorry if you’ve emailed me or left a voicemail, tweet, or Facebook message and never got a response from me. I am going to blame having a two-month-old. I’m pretty much in a constant state of hallucination. I’ll get back to you, but it may be a while, especially if these pterodactyls keep dropping 990 forms on me. Get away from me; you’re extinct!

Let’s talk about jargon. We have so many clichéd phrases and concepts in our sector. Many of them we’ve adopted from the for-profit sector; and some of them, we invented. More people are talking about jargon and how to avoid them, like this article, and this great infographic. But no one offers alternatives to jargon. And it is my philosophy to never offer a critique without offering potential solutions, unless I’m lazy. So I made up new jargon that you can use as alternatives. Try them out. Hopefully, these new clichés will catch on so that we can make charts to complain about them later:

  1. 30,000-feet view/level. Sometimes it’s 50,000-feet. You actually can’t see much from 50,000 feet, because you’re probably dead from hypothermia. Unless you’re in a plane, in which case all you see is clouds. So this metaphor is stupid. Replace with “The drone-camera view/level.”
  2. Move the needle. Unless your nonprofit is a drug prevention or intervention group and you’re literally moving needles, avoid this. Replace with, “Peel the butternut.” Butternut squash is notoriously difficult to peel. “We’ve worked on homelessness for ten years, and we’ve barely peeled the butternut!”
  3. In your wheelhouse. WTF is a wheelhouse? I’m too lazy to find out, and I think most people are too. If none of us know what a wheelhouse is, then why is stuff always in one? Replace with “In your junk drawer.” Everyone has a junk drawer, so that makes sense.
  4. Elephant in the room. Refers to a huge issue no one wants to talk about. It gives elephants a bad name, and they are intelligent, magnificent, and compassionate creatures. Replace with, “Can we acknowledge the mites on our eyelashes?” Apparently, we all have microscopic insects on our faces, and no one talks about them. (Do NOT click on that link)
  5. Let’s put that in the parking lot. This one means to note something down to discuss later. Says one colleague, “No, let’s not. Let’s deal with it now, ya hack!” Replace it with, “Let’s write that into a grant proposal.” That makes it sound important, but we don’t have to deal with it for six months to a year.
  6. Too many things on my plate. Reminds me of Thanksgiving last year, when I helped myself to too much seitan-based fake turkey and tempeh “fakin,” a type of bacon substitute, you know how it is. Replace with, “I have a lot of gluten in my diet.”
  7. Take this off line. Another export from the tech sector. It means “Talk about this in private later.” Replace with, “Call your/my landline.” No one knows what a landline is anymore, so we might as well recycle this word. E.g., “This is totally in my junk drawer, so I’ll call your landline after the meeting.”
  8. Bandwidth. This must come from the tech folks and refers to the speed and ability to process information. “I don’t have the bandwidth to tackle any new projects.” Replace with “Sticky dots.” E.g., “You want all the staff to get CPR training? That would be great, but we don’t have the sticky dots for that right now.”
  9. Pick your brain. Gross. Replace with “Siphon your hard-earned knowledge for free.” E.g, “I know you don’t have a lot of sticky dots, but I’d love to get coffee and siphon your hard-earned knowledge for free.”
  10. It is what it is. Yes. It sure is. That’s…very helpful of you to say. Replace with, “A rhino ain’t a wombat.” Or “a platypus ain’t a rhino.” Just compare two animals that are obviously different and use “ain’t” to sound cool. E.g., “We didn’t do so well at that open house, but I guess a weasel ain’t a seahorse.”
  11. Do more with less. An oft-heard expression in our sector, and terrible because it perpetuates the martyr mindset. Replace with, “burn out.” E.g., “We lost 20% of our funds, and the waitlist for our services just doubled, so I guess we have no choice but to burn out.”
  12. Deep dive. It means to really focus on something and thoroughly explore or study it. It’s annoying. Let’s replace it with, “990.” E.g., “We need to 990 why attendance has been decreasing.”
  13. Innovative. Ugh. This is often a catch-all excuse for chasing shiny new things. You know what is really innovative? General operating funds. So let’s replace “innovative” with “gen-op.” E.g., “Dude, your organization’s program is totally gen-op!”
  14. Disrupt. Please, I can’t handle any more “disruption.” Can we just stabilize things in the sector before we disrupt them? Says a colleague, “The head of AARP wrote a book called ‘Disrupting Aging.’ Do you know what truly disrupts aging? Death.” Let’s replace it with “Masticate.” It means to chew, the act of breaking something into small bits, and it’s fun to say: “If our organization is to remain relevant, we must masticate the ways we’ve been doing things.”
  15. Value-add. I can’t stand this one. “What’s the value-add of this program for the community?” Blegh. Sounds so annoying and pretentious. Replace it with, “Salt on the caramel.” Salted caramel is now a flavor of everything: ice cream, chocolate, sauerkraut. It’s also pretentious, but we might as well incorporate it into our work conversations. “You want to have a golf tournament? What’s the salt on that caramel?”
  16. The optics: How things are perceived; for example, “We could seat the Mayor next to our board president, but the optics won’t look good.” It grates on my nerves. Let’s replace it with “Kilimanjaro.” It sounds impressive to climb this famous and beautiful mountain. But you can get people called “porters” to carry your stuff up for you! Heck, you can buy chocolate and soda along the way. (Thanks, Cracked, for illuminating this). So, Kilimanjaro can refer to when things are not what they are perceived to be. E.g., “We could seat the Mayor next to our board president, but it won’t be Kilimanjaro to the media.”
  17. Empower. One of the most overused words in our sector. It’s so ubiquitous that it’s lost power and meaning. Let’s replace it with something cooler: “Transmogrify.” E.g., “Our mission is to transmogrify parents to advocate for their kids’ education.” (Yup, it’s from Calvin and Hobbes, the best comic ever written in the history of this universe and all parallel ones).
  18. Low-hanging fruit. For some reason, this leaves a sour taste in my mouth. It’s insulting and patronizing when referring to people. I once heard someone say, “English-speaking parents are our low-hanging fruit, so we’re recruiting them first.” Not nice. Let’s replace this with something better, like “Top layer of hummus.” g., “The top layer of our hummus should be to get a locking cabinet for our personnel files.”
  19. Ducks in a row. I kind of like this one, because ducklings are so cute. But it’s overused. We need a new cliché. Let’s replace it with, “Bunnies in a basket.” Aw, that’s equally cute!
  20. Open kimono. It means something like being open and transparent. I’ve heard this like twice now in the past month. Ew! Gross! And culturally inappropriate! Replace it with, “3-ring binder.” 3-ring binders are awesome, especially those with the clear covers that you can slip a cover page, back page, and even a spine into! “When it comes to our finances, we are pretty 3-ring binder.” See? Way less creepy. (Seriously, never use “open kimono” ever). Update: Apparently, one colleague thinks binder reminds him too much with “binders full of women,” which is a good point. So I’m changing this one to “Open kombucha.” Bottles of kombucha, a type of fermented tea, needs to be opened on occasion to breathe during the making so they don’t explode.
  21. Think outside the box. Such a cliché. We need something new. Replace it with, “Let’s think like a pterodactyl.” You may be thinking, “That makes no sense.” Well, that’s because you’re not thinking like a pterodactyl.

There’s plenty more; we’ve barely peeled the butternut on this one. Add your ideas and new jargon in the comment section. And participate on twitter using #nonprofitjargon and #newnonprofitjargon. For more on this topic, see “Common nonprofit terms and concepts and what they actually mean.” Now, if you will excuse me, someone needs my attention. I’m sorry, Your Holiness, but you get three sticky dots like everyone else!

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153 thoughts on “21 irritating jargon phrases, and new clichés you should replace them with

    1. McPierogiPazza

      So long as they actually are really smart! Maybe we should be honest about when a bad decision gets made. “We spent $250,000 in really smart investments and wasted $20,000 on one really stupid project that some of us knew would never work.”

  1. Kathryn

    Also weary of EVERYONE being classified as “partner.” If absolutely necessary, “funding partner” or “program partner” helps clarify the relationship. Advice also welcome re. how to nix “leverage strategic impacts.” Ack!

  2. ellenbristol

    I go for the pterodactyls and Kilimanjaro. You forgot to add “capacity-building,” an actual term that means something but has been drained of meaning by overuse. Replace with “raise more money” and “add more staff/technology/skills/credentials” or whatever. And forgive me in advance because I’m in the business of building capacity, especially nonprofits’ “capacity” to raise more money!

    1. McPierogiPazza

      A German colleague wanted to know what the English word is for “how these funds will help your organization.” She couldn’t believe we don’t have one.

      1. ellenbristol

        So what’s the German word? What a great concept. Let’s add some German, or French, or Swahili, or Farsi or whatever, to the jargon circus.

  3. Josh

    Replace “stakeholder” with “steak-holder.” Makes for a more interesting image…unless your are veg/vegan

    1. McPierogiPazza

      My only problem with steakholder is that I’m already prone to daydream about food during meetings.

  4. Julianne B.

    I’ll definitely appropriate “salt on the caramel,” but value-added simply means “what’s in it for me/you/us/them?” Not very non-profit friendly, but a cobra ain’t a hedgehog.

  5. Stacy Little

    I wish everyone in every sector would please, please stop calling every flipping thing a “journey” and just go back to calling it whatever it’s supposed to be called. Writing a grant. Flossing your teeth. Whatever. No need to get melodramatic.

  6. ange h

    But, but, my ducks ARE all in a row! Also, every time I say, “Thank you for reaching out to me,” I want to slap myself.

    1. Cloggie

      Reach out doesn’t bother me half as much as “touch”. At an event, I spoke to a CEO who mentioned having to “touch a lot of people in this room” to the horror of those around us. I knew what she meant but to the others, she just seemed like a perv.

      1. Tarn

        My friend in Child Protective Services said that her whole department would cringe when someone used that term. That wasn’t as bad, though, as when they got an email that said “This is just a tickler…” Um, no.

        1. Cloggie

          Oh my! That is a lesson in context. I first heard the term “tickler” when working in a courtroom, so I associate it with legal practice, but I see the problem there. Also, no one wants to be tickled in the workplace.

  7. Sheri Simonsen

    LOVED all of these. You are brilliant. How about replacing “At the end of the day…” with “What a clusterf***!” As in, “What a cluster***! Oh, well – a donkey’s not a hedgehog, you know.”

  8. Mike R.

    “Gold Standards” for some reason makes me think of a bunch of people trying to unsuccessfully move a couch through a doorway and one of the people says, “The gold standards for moving this couch through this doorway are…” and it doesn’t matter what was said because I stopped paying attention as soon as I heard the words, “gold standard.” Maybe, instead replace it with “the way to not pinch your fingers in a doorframe while you’re cultivating a potential donor are…”

  9. treadlightly

    WHAT?!? You didn’t address Collective Impact?!? Thank you for the Monday morning laugh.

  10. Jan

    Amen to all of these, and my gratitude to all of you awesome people who care about the language. What is it about “journey” that sounds so pretentious? And it’s not just that everyone’s a partner, but that now it’s being turned into a gerund, as in “partnering”. Ugh. It’s as bad as collaborative. Also overused. I recently heard, to my dismay, someone use the term “optionalities”, as opposed to options. Unfortunately, it was someone I loved, so I had to reach out (double-ugh) to a colleague for support. “Help! My favorite niece just said ‘optionality’! What should I do?”
    My friend advised violence.

    1. McPierogiPazza

      Ok, I have no problem with collaborative it is accurate, but I’m with you on optionalites. Wow, never heard that before. Journey sounds pretentious because it is overblown. But help this crabby person understand how “awesome” has been reduced to daily usage meaning good or great. How was the conference? “Awesome!” I give someone a pen. “Awesome!” Louis C.K. asks what words we’ll have left for the birth of a child when we’ve used up “awesome” on a sandwich. I suspect this is the Millennial contribution English to follow what my generation did, which was destroying the word “like,” which is, like, a way worse linguistic crime.

      1. Jan

        You’ll have to take up the use of awesome with the resident blogger. But I believe he uses it in the only trendy way possible, which is to say, ironically. I agree with you that it ought to be used primarily in its traditional form, as in “the sight of the comet in the sky was awesome,” although the more fashionable usage has driven me to prefer saying awe-inspiring, lest my genuine admiration be mistaken for glib superficiality. And yes, the use of like as a verbal filler
        is a plague upon the earth.

  11. CliffMayo

    Hearing someone say “That’s your genius!” or “Find your genius!” makes me physically angry these days. Especially when it’s referring to the second (or third, or fourth, or… so on) thing that the person is a “genius” at doing, but is always said as if each person is only a “genius” at one single thing.

  12. Mehitabel

    Inputs, outcomes and metrics. Ugh.

    And the next time someone tells me to do more with less, I refuse to be held responsible for the consequences.

    I have to disagree about “It is what it is”. I find that to be a very useful alternative to what I usually want to say in situations that call for such a comment, which is “I would really like to kill myself right about now.”

    1. Colin Jones

      SO with you on “do more with less”!

      But I think inputs and outcomes (along with outputs and impact) are less jargon and more useful technical language (which is an admittedly narrow distinction). The more we use these terms, the more we’ll create a shared understanding around planning and evaluating our work.

    2. McPierogiPazza

      I don’t mind inputs, outcomes and metrics. “It is what it is” makes me break out in hives.

      1. Frozenveg

        I agree. I strongly suggest replacing “it is what it is” with, “it’s too damn bad,” which is the actual meaning.

  13. Keneta

    Thanks for the morning laugh and for “lifting up” this “important issue.” I’ve banned “at the end of the day” unless it refers to the actual end of an actual day, replacing it with “When all the rhubarb is harvested.” Ditto on “reaching out” unless the speaker intends to extend an arm toward something or someone. (The cool thing about “reaching out” is we can choose from a variety of handy replacements, such as “call,” “email,” “text,” or even “Pony Express,” if you’re comfortable, as I am, using email, text, and Pony Express as verbs.) And please, no more lifting up important issues. Let’s do something about them instead. We can go to the gym later.

    1. Janna Ostoya

      I second @Keneta:disqus ‘s suggested “when all the rhubarb is harvested”. I’d also like to ban any use of “leverage” that does not involve a pry-bar.

    2. Debbi

      My mother used to say – “when the potatoes are done” for just about any time related question. When are you coming home? When the potatoes are done. When can I get a car? When the potatoes are done. Because if you grew up in the south, you know – those potatoes ain’t never done!

  14. LisaSJA

    Classic! This is one to save. #14 made me laugh out loud. I think I’ll try throwing some of these into conversation and see the reactions I get. Thanks for making Monday suck less, Vu.

  15. Eileen

    Every time I hear someone say “I’ll circle back with you on this,” I want to jam knitting needles into my ears. Please, for the love of God, stop the insanity.

  16. Una

    could someone pleeeeaase come up with an alternative to “takeaway”?? As in “What’s the takeaway?” Maybe takeout. Maybe nothing. I’ll work on that this while avoiding the mites on my lashes, ie a grant proposal due EOB (ouch! another one).
    Thank you endlessly Vu ~

    1. Ethan Myerson

      The concept of a takeaway is that one ostensibly valuable nugget after surviving some meeting or event. If my kids behave at the dentist’s office, the hygienist gives them a token to put into the machine to get a bouncy ball. So I propose “Bouncy Ball”.

      “Sure, we discussed a lot in this workshop, but what’s the Bouncy Ball?”

      1. Frozenveg

        Oh no–we have always been subjected to “takeaway” as the tasks each person has had generated for them by the meeting, as in, “Jen will call the state, sweep the front stairs, and fire Rob; Mike will find out about the repairs on the broken freezer; Cloudy will order margaritas for everyone at 5 today.” So a better substitute for “takeaways” could be “more s**t I have to do now.”

    2. eXecuTech

      The next time somebody says, “What’s the takeaway?” your answer should be, “Well, I’ve been craving pizza or Chinese. Anybody else?”

    1. Nina

      On a related note, “connect” makes my skin crawl. As in, “Great idea. Why don’t we connect in a week or so to go over it in more depth?” Besides sounding hyper-obnoxious, it’s so vague and noncommital that you might as well just admit you’re never actually going to follow up.

  17. Melina Watts

    I have been a fan of your work for some time but this one just transmogrified me.

    For the record, any kimono I’m wearing is gonna be tied with an obi. (One.)

    Thank you.

  18. Aplos Software

    LOL! These are great, Vue! The irony is that you’re “really moving the needle” and “disrupting” the nonprofit sector with this blog! 😉

  19. Sherry S. Jennings

    How about the term “metrics”? WTF? We don’t even use the metric system in the US. We’re the lone holdouts in the world and we should be proud. We love our foot, pound, quart measurements. Instead of “What are the metrics to support your position?”, I like “What feet support your position?” Probably a more accurate assessment.

    1. McPierogiPazza

      Hey, we’re in league with Burma and Liberia on our resistance. If you’re going to go with the measurements we use, I’d suggest “which confusing and dated system measurements will you use to evaluate your progress?”

  20. NextDoorInc

    Let’s replace “take it to the next level.” I seem to hear it several times a week. How about “toss it to the next pterodactyl?”

  21. ALR Minneapolis

    A man in our office often says, “Maybe they’re just blowing smoke up my skirt.” Is that jargon? I don’t think so but it might go in the category of #20.

    1. Olivia Fournier

      Hahaha I’ve heard “blowing smoke up my ass” often, but in casual talk outside of work. Maybe it means something similar, someone complimenting you in an insincere way, usually just to get you to do something for them. Frequently phrased, “Are you being serious or are you blowing smoke up my ass?”

      1. ALR Minneapolis

        Exactly. He just throws it around in professional settings like it’s a common phrase like “pulling my leg” or “a rhino ain’t a wombat.”

  22. Katia Satterfield

    Thanks for the laugh, Vu. I did love “a rhino ain’t a wombat.” Hoping to use it . . .

    Though I have to question–is this just a comedic installation, or is it serious? I ask because I feel like the real issue with cliches is when they are overused to a point they’re meaningless, no one understands what they mean anyway, or the literal interpretation is insensitive. I think you did a good job with that pointing out the problems with “empower”, “disrupt”, “low-hanging fruit”, and “open the kimono” (really really glad I’ve never heard that one be used). But I don’t see the need for replacing most of the others (though I admit people need to be more careful about when they use them); it’s language and it keeps us moving.

    Personally I think it’s great that people siphon the hard-earned knowledge of others for free. It helps us all improve!

  23. Shannon Tracey

    And another Monday morning where I am so grateful that I’d gladly show up in the middle of the night and bounce your two-month-old so you can catch up on sleep, or tequila, and keep writing these blogs. I especially appreciate your relentless battle against “innovative” and am sending that to our ED right now. However, we in the transportation sector have long opposed “parking lot” as terminology for where to write down the topics that come up during a meeting that we want to acknowledge (so that bad meeting participants don’t continue to bring them up and derail the meeting) and then NOT talk about. We like to call it the “bike rack.” I find this a useful meeting facilitation tactic, when used in that way, and encourage folks to use “bike rack” or “bus stop” as a pressure valve for off-topic stuff.

  24. Peter Dudley

    There has been a lot of “laddering up” around here lately, but I don’t even know what it means so can’t offer an informed alternative. If I had to guess, I’d say it means pulling a lot of details together in a particular sequence to get to a solution. Kind of like making a lasagna. Or a complicated cocktail. So maybe instead of laddering up those items, we can lasagna them or sazerac them.

  25. RyanS

    This is a beautiful article, and my Monday sucks way less as a result. I would like to nominate doing away with “both/and” because if you say that it really just means “both.”

  26. John

    Can we do away with “pot,” as in “pot of money” e.g. this part of the grant is coming from Jane’s pot and that part is from Joe’s pot. Just say budget. Foundation program officers are not leprechauns.

    1. corbin1994

      Is that my grant writing problem? That I pretty much think foundation officers are leprechauns guarding pots of gold?

    2. ScarlettB

      My boss says “bucket.” It’s not jargon so much as it is his own peccadillo, but it still makes me stabby.

  27. Karen

    “Monetize” – what, so now all we have to do is add “ize” to a noun and it becomes a verb? I propose we change this to exactly what we mean: “make a killing on.”
    Also, “awesome” as in, “We had an awesome meeting.” No you didn’t. Those two things should never, ever be seen together in a sentence. Climbing Kilamanjaro? That would be awesome. But not a meeting. Not ever. How about we change this to “nectar of the gods,” as in, “That plan you wrote was nectar of the gods.” At least then we can all acknowledge how ridiculous we sound.

  28. amjoba

    These are awesome. We need a new one for “kill two birds with one stone” as well. I know I’m vegetarian but this is not duck hunt! Plus, I’ve never actually heard of anyone killing a bird with a stone, let alone two birds. How about “Feed two pterodactyls with one piece of bread” instead?!

    1. wbethg

      Feed two birds with one hand! I’ve been saying that for years! And trained others to say it too!

  29. Midwest Grantwriter

    Let’s all be forward thinking…..whaaaa? Thinking about moving forward? As opposed to backward thinking?

  30. wbethg

    LOVE this! I’d add “At the end of the day” and replace that with “at 11:59” (am I playing this game right?). I also hate when presenters “unpack” things. Just talk about it more already.

  31. Diana Fox

    Vu, I was really pulling for “pivot” to be on the list, and kept hoping while scrolling to see it blasted as only you can do. How did we ever change direction on anything before the tech sector taught us how to pivot — we used to just say – ‘let’s not do that anymore!’


    Hilarious! Thank you for sharing and making me chuckle at my desk this morning. Almost all of these ‘get on my wick!’ Definitely going to try and use some of these at meetings, my favorites are: “…sticky dots…” and “Let’s think like a pterodactyl”. Comedy gold.

    This is not strictly non-profit related, but really grates – “touch base”, “I’ll touch base with you later” Ewww, no, please don’t!

    1. Tova Perlmutter

      I don’t love “touch base,” but it’s waaayyyyyyy better than what I hear quite a bit: “touch bases.” Don’t know why, that one bugs me enormously.

  33. eXecuTech

    Just for the record, a wheelhouse is the the room on ships where the captain navigates the vessel. The phrase refers to area of expertise, not a physical location. When somebody says, “That’s not in my wheelhouse,” they mean, “I have no effing idea and can’t help you.”

  34. Julia Wade

    Going forward, I will not pick the low hanging fruit of a tired trope to let you know I’m keeping my eye on the ball, in the hopes of being able to move the needle. I often have too much on my plate and complain of not having the bandwidth to hit the ground running, but with all due respect–and from here on out–I will not take the no-brainer approach of comparing apples to apples. It’s gonna be a game changer. :-0

  35. Arik Greenberg

    Vu, another brilliant post. And it’s okay that you have never responded to my emails. I’m just honored that you took my advice about the errata on the website. 😉
    Anyway, I am surprised that you didn’t touch on the top layer of hummus that I think is really the mites on the eyelashes that we are all avoiding, perhaps: 1) White Papers, and 2) Best Practices. First of all, why do they have to be white? Aren’t most papers white? What makes them so special if they look the same as every other paper? And who the heck has the gosh-darned right to dictate what are the best practices? Sounds like more patriarchalism to me, but in a more fuzzy and accommodating shell.

  36. Tina Cincotti

    “price point” drives me crazy!! why can’t we just say “cost” like a real human person? (i also have to say that i clicked the link about face mites; i’ll never be the same.)

  37. Laura Hartzell

    Wow, thanks so much for “looping me in.” Argh! Shoot me if one more person “loops me in” but doesn’t actually tell me what my role is in the obscenely-long email chain! Vu–the humor you bring these moments are the salve for a worn NGO-soul!!

  38. Theresa Nelson

    Love the pithy insights on this post. We started saying “we got so good at doing more with less that now we can do almost anything with practically nothing.” I said this once to a funder and got back a blank, anxious look, he did not know I was kidding. Sigh.

  39. Dina Elenbaas

    Here in Australia, the phrase “under the pump” is frequently used for number 6. I’m happy for your American readers to steal our irritating Australian jargon, if that helps!

  40. Diane Miller

    Parking lot has been updated. Now it’s “Let’s add that to the bike rack.”

  41. Katie

    I’m just hung up on number four– do I click the link? Do I follow instructions and NOT click the link? Will I regret not finding out what’s there? Will I regret if I DO find out what’s there? And why are my eyelashes suddenly itchy?

  42. McPierogiPazza

    Hey, some of us use “parking lot” as a way to get someone to let go of something completely off topic that they’re hanging onto like a dog with a chew toy. Usually by the end of the meeting they’ve lost interest.

  43. Me

    On-ramping! Off-ramping!!! The HR people recently stated using this set of stupid terms. I couldn’t believe it.

    If I don’t deliberately sprinkle the jargon you object to in my work then the management treats me like I’m not on their wave-length (to use some old jargon) and not playing their game.

  44. Sharon Panitch

    I advocate for replacing “lost in the weeds” with “lost in the weed,” as in, “We’re so high that we forgot what we were talking about in the first place.” Evokes image of a freshman dorm rather than one of drowning at the bottom of a murky swamp.

  45. Alisha Johnson

    Ooooh, I just heard the word “piggy-back” as in “I would like to piggy-back on that idea.” I don’t understand what that means, as pigs are probably not as easy to ride as horses, and according to Mr. Ed, horses would rather not be ridden either. So I would like to replace that saying with “pull out a lawn chair.” So in the future, let’s say, “that was a great suggestion, and I would like to pull out a lawn chair next to it and add…..”

    1. Disobedient Pike

      Thank you! My colleagues’ use of that phrase provokes the most ridiculous images of them giving each other piggy-back rides around the room, the rider spurring on the “piggy” with riding crop in hand. It’s deeply, deeply unsettling. Makes me wish I was a better artist so I could share this visual with others. *shudders*

  46. Rhiannon Orizaga

    My very least favorite jargon is “out of pocket.” When I first heard it I assumed it had to do with out-of-pocket expenses but nope, it’s a totally new meaningless phrase that is a dumb way of saying I won’t be in the office/able to respond to you. WTH.

    1. kqriley

      yes- out of pocket should be expense related, not your communications tool (i.e. a smart phone) How about “maybe I will respond and maybe I won’t – embrace the mystery”

  47. Kristi

    I am with you on “low hanging fruit.” I really don’t like that phrase.

    I DO like “bandwidth.” But I’m also a recovering engineer, so take that with a grain of salt. (There’s another one – “grain of salt.” Seems like we could do better?)

  48. Amy Lamborg

    Vu, you are awe-some…and so are all these commenters. You’ve all “brought forward” (sorry) most of the worst, but I also hate “onboarding.” I don’t know what it means, so I can’t come up with an alternative….

    1. Frozenveg

      I also hate “onboarding!” It is an HR term (HR is apparently in my wheelhouse) which literally refers to getting people on a boat without falling in the water (that’s also why we “show them the ropes”). It seems to imply that people are left to drown in most organizations when they start work (which is most likely true). But most places are not riverboats or ocean liners–they are on perfectly solid ground. Hence “orientation,” learning to find your way around with a compass.

      Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, killing the term “onboarding.” I’m in favor of “scavenger hunting.” That’s what it’s really like in any organization. New people are immediately expected to find stuff about stuff they know nothing about, with cryptic clues such as, “The QFR for CSFP is due by the 15th–or maybe the 30th!”, and, “Lisa wants to know why she got the memo from Albany about the grant.” And new folk are left to go scrambling looking for the answers. Let’s “scavenger hunt” this new staff!

      1. Amy Lamborg

        Oh! I always thought “show someone the ropes” meant teaching them how to sail. At least I got the boat part right. It would be even funnier, though, if it were a boxing reference. Ha! I think I’ll start using it like that!

  49. Frozenveg

    It’s a mark of how nuts my week has been that I’m finally getting to this on a Wednesday morning, and I’m leaving late for work to comment on it! Love this post–need more destruction of jargon for jargon’s sake!

    No one has yet mentioned ROI–Return on Investment! I hate that term. “We really need to upgrade the financial software!” “OK, what’s the ROI?” Damn it, if we had improved financial software, it wouldn’t take 6 Excel spreadsheets and 15 hours of work to show you! (OK, maybe I just hate it when I have to provide data for stuff that seems self-evident.)

    So maybe the replacement term should be, “Show Me.” “You want a lawn tractor for the kids to play with at nap time? What’s the Show Me?”

  50. ellenbristol

    One additional hateful phrase: “to move the needle.” I gather this is supposed to refer to the “needle” on a dial of some sort, and seeing it progress from one setting to antoher but I always have the image of something intravenous and unwelcome happening to me.

  51. Vanessa

    “Sweet spot” – especially used in strategic planning meetings (that will really go nowhere) in order to reference said “sweet spot” in grant writing/fundraising.

    1. Deb Mills

      Hate that phrase…it sounds inappropriate to me….goes along with “wheelhouse”. I may be getting too old and carmudgeonly for the conference room. Peace.

  52. Mark Wilder

    I hate most of those suggestions, especially the elephant in the room. It is huge and looming and everyone knows it’s there so it needs to be addressed. The proposed change, mites in our eyelashes, is something small and inconsequential that is just a matter of fact and not something you’re thinking about. It completely reversed the meaning.

  53. ScarlettB

    We need a replacement for “cherry pick.” If hipster-restaurant jargon weren’t just as annoying as corporate-speak, I’d suggest “artisanally curate.”

  54. Erika

    Thanks for this Vu! I keep a running list of my organization’s jargon and we have 4 irritating terms this year already: “sense-check” (review), “socialize the issue” (discuss), “get a flavor” (just eww), and “blue sky thinking”. What happened to the old words for things?! And in New Zealand they have the phrase “a box of fluffies” or “a box of fluffy ducks,” which I think you should start using. From Using English “Used when something is working well or going your way. If you are happy, you are a box of fluffy ducks. Also can be shortened to ‘a box of fluffies’.”

  55. Una

    I’m proud to say I used “sticky dots” twice this week after nearly writing “I’m not sure I have the bandwidth to tackle that proposal by midnight given that I’m leaving town this afternoon” … no one blinked! Infiltration success!

  56. Forbeser

    I find myself using the expression “let’s catch up” – and I feel it might well be because I’m a runner and I’m subconsciously wishing I was out in the middle of nowhere whistling through the hills…

  57. Amy McDougal Albrecht

    I just read this and then read all the comments. My mascara is as extinct as the pterodactyls. Sending this to all my NP friends, posting it on our FB page and referring to it in my blog. Thank you all. Made my month.

  58. Tarnia Sand

    How many times do people say ‘pretty much’ in a conversation. It’s ridiculous!

  59. Agatha Zaza

    “engaging” as in “we will engage in the sector for maximum impact” meaning – we have no idea how to describe an activity that we can’t define.

  60. Eileen

    Thanks for the laughs! Whenever anyone says “think outside the box,” I go blank and get brain freeze. Would also like to add that the VP on the Board of Trustees just let me know I can “leverage him on skype.” Yes. He said that.

  61. Eileen

    One more thing: my ED is a total technophobe but loves using the word “multitasking” and uses is in a positive manner all damn day. “We’re multitaskers here!” “Everyone here multitasks!” He does not understand that multitasking is not a good thing and leads to errors. He just thinks it means everyone does anything that needs to be done. Which is not true, of course.

  62. Lara

    Somebody please ban “circle back” at my workplace as well.

    I don’t have any problem with ducks in a row, though. Who can hate on ducklings? I just realized the other day that I literally have my ducks in a row in my linkedin photo and not on purpose.

  63. Cloggie

    If you do a part 2, please include “learning” when used as a noun. We didn’t have “learnings” from the evaluation, we learned from it. Why? Just….why?!

  64. Theresa Ezernack

    I thought ‘move the needle’ referred to moving the needle on the dash, like pick up the pace.

  65. RobAlex

    I don’t know why business people and nonprofits are obsessed with using dumb cliches all the time (and fall over themselves to rapidly adopt each new one that comes along); unfortunately your replacements are no better – I assume they are meant in jest.

  66. larry

    And “artisan”, “artisenal”, “crafted”. All mean “made”. I assume those adjectives put a hoity on top ot the toit. And “sustainable”….as for sustainable meat? Yes…unless the the earth is hit by a meteor, animals will still thrive and become pork chops and steaks.

  67. Harshal Carpenter

    Make it more cooler <- when mangement and PR guys say this, my anger level goes off the roof.

  68. BnB

    I could not stop giggling when I was reading this. Just the other day one of the VP’s said to me, “In her purview her personal charter has changed dramatically and I just don’t have the bandwidth to empower her to acclimate. Is that in your wheelhouse?”

  69. cornflkgrl

    What grinds my gears is when people call something a “sexy cause” ESPECIALLY when it’s a youth education or development program! Just stop!!!!

  70. boadicea

    Massage. I don’t even know how to explain the intent of it, but a former boss who would use it in meetings all the time. I’m guessing it meant to expand upon an idea or to work through some problems in an idea….but I really just got grossed out every time he suggested we massage something.

    1. boadicea

      Also, “Big Picture”. Because when someone says they really are a ‘big picture kind of guy’, then mean they really aren’t going to do all the little peasant tasks. You are.

  71. Brian Boyd

    The ones that really bug me, for no real reason I admit, are: “chops” (when referring to musical ability – every damn issue of Uncut or Mojo includes this word somewhere); “jaw-dropping” (quality of…), “whopping” (amount of…). Enough of these please.

  72. Andy K.

    “capacity building” when I hear that term, I’m thinking….watch out, we’re about to waste a ton of money.
    better perhaps, to talk about what we need to improve, what it it going to require, how are we going to do it, and what will it cost.

  73. Will Siss

    How about replacing “unpack” (analyze) with anything else? “Let’s operate without anesthesia this situation.”

  74. Avery Madison

    Curate – another incredibly pretentious, overused, and meaningless term. Incent, and incentivize – turning an adjective into verbs.

  75. Helvi Rissanen

    Thanks for bringing me “up to speed” with this post, I’m glad you “kept me in the loop”. It gave me a chance to really “connect the dots”. These ones make no sense to me at all; so apparently I am a wind up or coal-powered motor of some kind that needs to be kept in a lasso while doing a children’s puzzle? Replacements can be “filling up my glass”, “noosing me” and “colour the shapes”.

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