Boiling the ocean? New words in the workplace.

by Liz Walter
boiling_the_oceanMany people will have whiled away a boring meeting playing ‘boardroom bingo‘, where participants compete to spot hackneyed phrases such as think outside the box, reinvent the wheel or go back to the drawing board. We are all-too familiar with these clichés, but which phrases are currently competing for a place in the game?

One contender must be to boil the ocean – used to warn colleagues away from attempting something vastly over-ambitious. The following is typical:

Our suggestion to Avoid Boiling the Ocean is to concentrate on creating plans that focus on Critical Constituencies with the following Principles.

This quote comes from someone who is, apparently ‘an expert in the development of organizational transformation strategies’ – which probably tells you all you need to know about the kind of person who uses an idiom like this.

In another colourful phrase, when a trader says it is time to back up the truck, they mean that they are ready to make a large purchase. As an article on the iStockAnalyst website recently said:

In a nutshell, anything under $1,600 is a reason to be enthusiastic about further purchases, and $1,550 is an opportunity to “back up the truck”.

There are many suggestions for the origin of the popular business phrase open kimono. Some say it harks back to samurai warriors, either taking off their kimonos in order to relax or opening them to prove that they have no hidden weapons. Others suggest that it relates to the idea of a Japanese woman shyly undressing.

Wherever it comes from, the phrase is used now to mean the free sharing of information, for example with consumers or representatives of other companies, and it can be used either as an adjective phrase (an open kimono strategy), or as a verb phrase (It’s time to open the kimono.)

The average businessperson has to sit through so many presentations, it was inevitable that a phrase would emerge from the experience, and off the slide deck is it. We hear, for example, of companies being ‘funded off the slide deck’, meaning that they are getting money for something that is at present little more than a theoretical idea rather than a finished product. In some situations, the phrase has distinctly pejorative connotations. When the author of an article about training asks: ‘Was the instructor able to get off the slide deck and actually help you with a problem that needed solving?’, he is clearly using it to express a situation in which someone may be impractical and out-of-touch with the reality of working life.

Regardless of the number of clichés used, anyone who rambles on for too long in a business meeting is likely to be accused of buffling, a lovely combination of the words ‘business’ and ‘waffling‘, and not to be confused with blurting, which is, apparently, a new brainstorming technique in which participants are encouraged to share any thoughts, no matter how tenuous and ill-conceived they may be.

In a nice twist, business jargon is now so vilified that there is a new term to use when one comes across it: Déjà moo. By analogy with déjà vu it is used to mean that ‘we’ve heard this bull before’.

One thought on “Boiling the ocean? New words in the workplace.

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