Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 46;   November 13, 2002: High Falutin' Goofy Talk

High Falutin' Goofy Talk

by

Business speech and business writing are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with pretentious, overused images and puff phrases of unknown meaning. Here are some phrases that are so common that we barely notice them.

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."

StonehengeSince 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 [1911].
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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Pick-Up Sticks and the Change Game  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenpeblrEgLGwyiJvnoner@ChachKDulTRAAhCZHpoCoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

PadlocksDiagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.
PizzaCritical Thinking and Midnight Pizza
When we notice patterns or coincidences, we draw conclusions about things we can't or didn't directly observe. Sometimes the conclusions are right, and sometimes not. When they're not, organizations, careers, and people can suffer. To be right more often, we must master critical thinking.
Mars as seen by Hubble Space TelescopeWho Would You Take With You to Mars?
What makes a great team? What traits do you value in teammates? Project teams can learn a lot from the latest thinking about designing teams for extended space exploration.
The Town of Wescott, Wisconsin is recognized as Tree City 2005Retention
When the job market eases for job seekers, we often see increases in job shifting, as people who've been biding their time make the jump. Typically, they're the people we most want to keep. How can we reduce this source of turnover?
Heiltskuk Icefield, British ColumbiaFinding the Third Way
When a team is divided, and agreement seems out of reach, attempts to resolve the conflict usually focus on the differences between the contrasting positions. Focusing instead on their similarities can be a productive technique for reaching agreement.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Artist's concept of possible colonies on future mars missionsComing June 28: Tackling Hard Problems: I
Hard problems need not be big problems. Even when they're small, they can halt progress on any project. Here's Part I of an approach to working on hard problems by breaking them down into smaller steps. Available here and by RSS on June 28.
Artist's depiction of a dust storm on Mars with lightningAnd on July 5: Tackling Hard Problems: II
In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution, and look at how we get from the beginning to the end. Available here and by RSS on July 5.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenCqBYywMBLLlokgqfner@ChacsIfetooaEBQiVwQLoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Misunderstandings and unintended offenses are just some of the ways person-to-person communication can go wrong. In my Communications Workshop, we explore how things go wrong, and how to keep them right. We learn that Prevention is Easier than Repair.
What People Say About Rick's Programs
  • "Rick is a dynamic presenter who thinks on his feet to keep the material relevant to the group."
    — Tina L. Lawson, Technical Project Manager, BankOne (now J.P. Morgan Chase)
  • "Rick truly has his finger on the pulse of teams and their communication."
    — Mark Middleton, Team Lead, SERS
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.