Slogans and clichés worth forgetting

Thinking outside the box, and other reminders that you are still stuck in the box

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

Back when I was teaching English at the college level, I had a textbook on writing that held the statement “Slogans are where thinking stops”.

It’s true in religion, sports, politics and certainly in business.

Each one of those arenas has its own vocabulary of soul-paralyzing, brain-numbing, de-motivating jargon, but I would argue that business has the most, or at least the most widely used and recognized landscape of (for the most part) perfectly good words (and metaphors) stretched or strangled into meaninglessness.

These terms and phrases might have held significance or power when they were first used, but the second, or third or fiftieth time around, they just sound mechanical, if not inane.

Some, if not most, originated as compliments or were intended to inspire and motivate.

Here are just a few all too familiar terms that, to me at least are indicators that this particular meeting has lost its bearings and purpose.

Hear anyone described as a “rockstar” lately?

I’ll assume this phrase originally meant someone who excelled in their field.

Besides being locked behind a generational wall (how many of us under 40 or so want to be associated with “rock”?)

The standard “rockstar” is vain, disrespectful and self-destructive. How that fits into anyone’s business model is a mystery to me.

How about being asked to “give 110%”?

This, besides being mathematically impossible, is not likely to inspire anyone.

Most of us are parents or are in relationships and are “giving” more than we probably should.

This is one area where I’d like to see supervisors “give 110%” themselves – how about a 110% bonus or pay raise for those so appreciated “associates”?

100% is total, by the way. More than “all” will rarely be seen as positive, even if it were possible.

I have to admit that one of my (least) favorite jargon-blobs is “deep dive”.

As far as I can tell, “deep dive” was intended to mean something like research or original thought on a topic – something beyond the predictable shallows of what a basically informed person already knew about any given subject.

Guess what I almost never hear after “deep dive”?

I virtually never hear anything I didn’t already know.

Please don’t use that term unless you have something truly beyond the obvious to reveal. But even then, please don’t use that term.

And please don’t use the equally mind-numbing phrase “drill down”.

If you have some original thinking on a topic, just tell us.

These phrases of self-congratulations just sound callus and self-serving.

How about “move the needle”?

What kind of “needle” are we supposed to think of? A sewing needle? A hypodermic needle? A needle on a device that is monitoring our vital signs?

“Moving the needle” might be a sign of an active pulse, but more likely, the need to “move the needle” by external force is just another indication that brain death has set in.

Another one of my (un)favorites is “unpack”.

You want your listeners to think of suitcases when you want them to pay attention to you?

A term that has become so common that I barely notice it is the use of the verb “ask” as a noun. A big “ask”, for example.

My “big ask” is that you use nouns as nouns and verbs as verbs. If you mean “request’ please use the grown-up word.

Speaking of childish terms, how about “in the weeds”?

What are listeners or customers supposed to visualize when they hear a term like “in the weeds”?

That the speaker is lost somewhere? Or completely lost track of what they were talking about?

The term “stay in your lane” is similar.

Is no one to step, or think, outside of their authorized area of speciality?

I know that we have given up on the idea of a “Renaissance man” – a person skilled in many areas, but have we really abandoned the idea that any – and every – voice or stakeholder is crucial to a full and fair decision?

How about “data-driven,” “optics,” “30,000 foot view,” “Influencer,” “team-player,” “leverage,” or “ideating”?

A popular side-activity during meetings or conferences where the vocabulary devolves into corporate brain-mush has been business buzzword bingo. You can find a version for your device here –

You could use our handy paper version, or make your own.

If, for whatever reason, you’d like to generate your own instant cliches, I suggest this corporate cliche generator for that perfect phrase that fits any situation ( If nothing else, you can stall long enough to make a semi-dignified escape.

Just think of Dilbert as you slip out the door….

<strong>If you don’t make your own, Tacoma Daily Index is always willing to help.</strong>

If you don’t make your own, Tacoma Daily Index is always willing to help.


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