December 20

Corporate Jargon – What These Terms “Really” Mean


Corporate Jargon – What These Terms “Really” Mean

In our work life conversations and in meetings with co-workers, managers and executives, we are frequently subject to the use of certain expressions in blatant “corporate speak.”

While these terms have obvious meanings when used, they also have “hidden meanings” and are insightfully reflective of the motivations of the people who use such terms in every day business communications.

It is critical for us to understand the hidden meanings behind the use of these “corporate speak” expressions in our business life. Their use can be quite insightful on the quality of company culture, the personal agenda of people who use such terms and even with your future career in the organization.

If you understand the true nature of these hidden meanings, you can better act in your own best self-interests in corporate life and more effectively manage your career journey as a result.

People use “corporate jargon” in business life for essentially four purely self serving motivations:

  • Fit In, Sound like they belong
  • Feel Important, Impress Others and Themselves
  • Express Deeper “Hidden Meaning”
  • Self Preservation

Corporate Jargon – Exposed

There are no truly legitimate business reasons to use corporate speak jargon in our daily work life. However, the use of these expressions in business life is increasingly common and widespread. The following is a selected list of (12) frequently used business jargon expressions, a common use, the obvious meaning and most importantly, the typical hidden meaning:


Common Use: We do not have enough bandwidth to take on this project.

Obvious Meaning: We lack sufficient human or financial resources.

Hidden Meaning: We cannot or will not take this project on or work additional hours without additional compensation.

Throw Under the Bus

Common Use: There is no need to be thrown under the bus based on these events.

Obvious Meaning: Establish and identify blame for failure or poor results.

Hidden Meaning: We need to find someone we can blame who is not in this meeting.

 Collateral Damage

Common Use: It looks like we are going to have to take on collateral damage.

Obvious Meaning: We are going to lay people off.

Hidden Meaning: Hopefully, this includes no one in this room [the use of this term in a meeting likely means there is].


Common Use: He is not a member of our tribe.

Obvious Meaning: He is not a member of our project team or an insider in our group.

Hidden Meaning: This person does not understand the company way, has not drunk the company “Kool-Aid” [yet another expression] or we are better than this person.

Company Kool-Aid

Common Use: She has obviously not drunk the company “Kool-Aid.”

Obvious Meaning: She does not agree with the company thinking on this subject.

Hidden Meaning: This person is not onboard and is most likely on the way out [see collateral damage].

Low Hanging Fruit

Common Use: Most of his sales were low hanging fruit.

Obvious Meaning: Most of his sales were relatively easy.

Hidden Meaning: Envy or jealousy based on his sizeable commission checks.

Herding Cats

Common Use: Trying to get everyone to work together on this project has been like herding cats.

Obvious Meaning: It has been difficult to gain and obtain consensus and collaboration on this project initiative.

Hidden Meaning: This is an expression of frustration based on visible divergent self interest and a lack of accountability and leadership on the project.

Action Item

Common Use: We need to make this an action item.

Obvious Meaning: We need to assign this task or initiative to someone.

Hidden Meaning: We need to assign this to someone we can throw under the bus if the task or initiative fails.

Mission Critical

Common Use: This initiative needs to be mission critical.

Obvious Meaning: This initiative is a very high priority.

Hidden Meaning: Our jobs may be on the line if we are not successful with this initiative. The executives are watching. Watch for changing priorities.

Ball Park Figure

Common Use: We need a ball park figure on projected revenue.

Obvious Meaning: We need a credible estimate on projected revenue.

Hidden Meaning: Regardless of the later accuracy of projected revenue, you will likely be held accountable for any estimate you provide. Be careful.

Dead Wood

Common Use: A number of people in that department are dead wood.

Obvious Meaning: A number of people in that department are poor performers or do not support our agenda.

Hidden Meaning: A number of these people may be recommended for layoff or termination [see collateral damage].

Slam Dunk

Common Use: Achievement of this goal should be a slam dunk.

Obvious Meaning: Completion of this initiative should be relatively easy.

Hidden Meaning: The use of this expression is an arrogant oversimplification. Nothing in business is ever easily obtained or achieved.

Generally, the larger the organization the more likely it is that you will hear the use of these expressions in conversations and in meetings. Regardless, use of this jargon is not recommended.

People who insist on use of these common and overused corporate speak expressions in business sound like a “wannabe.” Rather, please be straightforward and thoughtfully direct in your business communications.

This practice will create more respect from co-workers, managers and executives. The respect you naturally earn will ultimately serve to ensure greater career and life success.

Loved this? Spread the word

About the Author

As a former corporate executive and officer, a master certified career and executive coach and Chief Career Strategist, Bob understands that great leadership begins on the inside. He enjoys helping people discover and cultivate their potential through advice that is both practical and profound.

Bob Lovely

Related posts


Read More

Job Search during a Pandemic – Updated!

Read More

The Dangers of “Ageism”

Read More

Turn Your Career “On” To Success!

Read More
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to receive business articles now!