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Corporate jargon 101

Wondering what your boss means when they start talking about low-hanging fruit or ROI? Don’t worry. We’ll explain it all.

Corporate jargon 101

Talking the talk tells people you know what you're doing.

Picture this: It’s your first day on the job, and you’re still riding high on your sense of accomplishment after a long and challenging job search. Within moments, though, your new boss strides over to your desk, hands you a sheaf of papers, and says, “Would you mind evaluating the scalability of these deliverables?”

Pop! Hear that? That was the sound of your confidence deflating like a sad party balloon. In any field, in any role, doing your job means navigating a complicated web of business jargon and buzzwords—some meaningful, some…not so much. And while it’s easy to scoff at young professionals spouting off about “silos” and “core competencies,” the truth is that talking the talk tells people you know what you’re doing and understand the shorthand used to express larger, more complicated ideas.

We’re not going to pretend that every piece of corporate psychobabble is hiding some secret deeper meaning, but we can definitely define a few of the more common phrases you might hear on the job. So if you’re anxious to understand what your boss is really saying when they hit you with some bewildering, vaguely Orwellian officespeak, read on.

Low-hanging fruit

Sample sentence: “Before we get too ambitious, let’s focus on low-hanging fruit—like remembering to wear pants to work.”

What it means: By definition, low-hanging fruit—actual fruit, we mean, not the kind your boss is talking about—is the kind that’s easy to pick off a tree. You don’t have to fashion some kind of complicated fruit-grabbing apparatus. All you need to do is put out your hand, close your fingers around it, and—snap!—there’s your low-hanging fruit.

When your boss uses this phrase, all they’re doing is describing an opportunity that can be taken advantage of with a bare minimum of effort. In other words, don’t overlook the easy wins while you’re trying to get your head around something more complex, missing the forest for the trees and—oops, there we go with the jargon again.

Take this offline

Sample sentence: “Let’s take this discussion of whether Popeye’s is better than KFC offline.”

What it means: You’ve probably heard this one if you’ve ever spent much time sitting on conference calls. Conversation going off the rails? Let’s take it offline. Agenda getting sidetracked by a series of tangents about less urgent issues? Let’s take it offline. Boss caught off guard by an employee suddenly claiming to be their long-lost son? Let’s definitely take it offline.

When someone uses this phrase, they’re telling you that the present conversation is better off being continued at a later time, preferably when there aren’t 20 other people on the call or there’s a lengthy agenda to get through. It doesn’t matter if you’re actually communicating online, over the phone, or in person. Got something you’d rather discuss later? Take it offline.

Move the needle

Sample sentence: “What can we do to move the needle on stopping teenagers from eating Tide Pods?”

What it means: Picture an old-timey meter, the kind you might see in a factory with metal pipes and steam gushing everywhere. It’s got a needle in the middle, lined up against some numbers, and when you pull a lever the needle—get this—moves.

Now, picture your office (let’s keep going with the Tide Pods scenario for a moment). As a marketing director for Tide, it’s your job to perform the tasks/pull the levers that will move the needle on your particular goal. In this case, that means stopping some kids who should really know better from eating a bag full of detergent. If you can prove that the tide is turning (sorry) as a direct result of your actions, you will have successfully moved the needle. And as everyone knows, the best way of doing that is to start by identifying low-hanging fruit. (See what we did there?)

Best practices

Sample sentence: “And now, Steve is going to speak to us about some of the best practices for meeting and befriending bears.”

What it means: A lot of the time, succeeding at work means achieving a given task in the most efficient manner possible. As a matter of fact, many of the processes you deal with on a daily basis—whether it’s drafting an email or cutting the crust off a sandwich—may already be governed be an agreed-upon set of best practices that tell you how to proceed.

For instance, a team of in-house sandwich experts may have performed a dozen hours of crust-removal research prior to your arrival, slicing the bread from multiple angles, using different knives, and experimenting with various types of rolls in order to draft the best practices defining how every crust will be removed at the company from this moment forward.

Silly example? Sure. But if you’re ever unsure about whether you’re doing something the right way, as if everyone around you knows something you don’t, don’t hesitate to ask about the best practices for completing the task at hand.


Sample sentence: “We’ve determined that the ROI of building giant sculptures of Taylor Lautner’s head is woefully inadequate.”

What it means: ROI isn’t some trendy buzzword (and no, it’s not pronounced “Roy”). Rather, it hails from the tonier backdrop of MBA programs and investing language. Short for “return on investment,” ROI is a handy acronym you can trot out to gauge whether something—anything, really—is worth the cost and effort of actually doing it.

It doesn’t need to be finance-related, either. You could just as easily measure the ROI of turning on your computer in the morning: the effort needed to guide your finger to the “start” button, versus the benefits that will follow from using it in order to successfully do your job. In this example, the ROI is clear. At other times (we’re looking at you, giant Taylor Lautner heads), the cost-benefit might be up for debate.

Looking for a challenge? Try using all five pieces of jargon in a sentence. Here’s our attempt: “We need to determine the ROI of creating best practices for moving the needle on some of the low-hanging fruit we discussed offline.”

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