The day after Human Beings invented talking, they invented the trite business phrase. In those days, business consisted mostly of acquiring food, shelter, and the necessities for procreation, much like business today. The first trite business phrase, loosely translated, meant "gimme that." Despite its rapid descent into triteness, "gimme that" did serve a higher purpose, because it led to the invention of a phrase of great utility even today: "in your dreams."
Since then, the more inventive among us have tried to stay ahead of the triteness curve — so to speak — but now cable TV makes that impossible. As soon as an authoritative author or a pontificating pundit unveils a clever new verbal invention, it's blasted around the world on the 24-hour news cycle, and everyone scrambles to be the first to use it in email or a meeting.
Clever new verbal inventions
have short shelf lives.
Everyone scrambles to be
the first to use them
in email or a meeting.The rest of us must repeat the same old too-familiar phrases, often forgetting what the phrases once meant. They might have had real impact when they were new, but now they're just filler.
Here are a few examples of once clever and colorful, but now trite and tired business phrases. Recall the first time you caught yourself using them, and decide if you want to continue.
- that said, having said that
- We used to say "but." Nowadays we seem to need more syllables.
- with all due respect
- Probably popularized in modern times by Perry Mason or those characters on C-SPAN, this one is a real oldie. See, for example, the patriotism entry in The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce .
- at the end of the day, bottom line
- Two different ways of saying "finally." "Bottom line" comes from accounting and finance, and used to be cute.
- on the ground
- Desperately trying to remain vital, this one is transforming itself into "boots on the ground." It's probably military in origin — a flyer's or paratrooper's term.
- ahead of the curve, behind the curve
- The "power curve" describes the relationship between drag, airspeed, and vertical speed for an aircraft. In business, the "ahead" form means advanced or innovative, while the behind form means "in too deep to ever dig out." Originally, using this image meant you were a pilot, which carried status. No longer.
- on our radar screen
- This one means "in our awareness." It used to be clever-sounding.
- get your arms around
- This one means "master," "grasp" or "understand." It's a highly charged physical image that can be somewhat risky.
The language we use reveals much about us. If leadership in writing and speech is a part of being a leader, then it's important to choose consciously the language we use every day. Choose yours. Top Next Issue
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