Most Annoying Business Jargon

The following is an edited version of a Forbes article by Max Mallet, Brett Nelson, and Chris Steiner on the Most Annoying Business Jargon.

The next time you feel the need to reach out, touch base, shift a paradigm, leverage a best practice, or join a tiger team, by all means do it. Just don’t say you’re doing it.

If you have to ask why, chances are you’ve fallen under the poisonous spell of business jargon. No longer solely the province of consultants, investors, and business-school types, this annoying gobbledygook has mesmerized the rank and file around the globe.

To save you from yourself (and to keep your colleagues and customers from strangling you), we have assembled a cache of expressions to assiduously avoid.

Core Competency
This awful expression refers to a firm’s or a person’s fundamental strength – even though that’s not what the word “competent” means. This is just a silly phrase when you think about it. Do people talk about peripheral competency? Being competent is not the standard we’re seeking. It’s like core mediocrity.


This means agreement on a course of action, if the most disingenuous kind. Asking for someone’s ‘buy-in’ says, “I have an idea. I didn’t involve you because I didn’t value you enough to discuss it with you. I want you to embrace it as if you were in on it from the beginning, because that would make me feel really good.”

S.W.A.T. Team
In law enforcement, this term refers to teams of fit men and women who put themselves in danger to keep people safe. In business, it means a group of “experts” (often fat guys in suits) assembled to solve a problem or tackle an opportunity. An apt comparison, if you’re a fat guy in a suit.


This is what someone above your pay grade does when, apparently, they would like you to do a job of some importance. It’s also the most condescending transitive verb ever. It suggests that “You can do a little bit of this, but I’m still in charge here. I am empowering you.”

Open the Kimono
Some people use this instead of “revealing information,” It’s kind of creepy. Just keep your kimono snugly fastened.

Bleeding Edge
Someone decided that his product or service was so cutting-edge that a new term needed to be created. It did not. Unless you are inventing a revolutionary bladed weapon, leave this one alone.

Lots of Moving Parts
Pinball machines have lots of moving parts. Many of them buzz and clank and induce migraine headaches. Do you want your business to run, or even appear to run, like a pinball machine? Then do not say it involves lots of moving parts.

Corporate Values

This expression is so phony it churns the stomach. Corporations don’t have values, the people who run them do.

Make Hay

This is jargon for being productive or successful in a short period of time. The phrase “to make hay” is short for “make hay while the sun shines”, which can be traced to The Proverbs, Epigrams and Miscellanies of John Heywood (circa 1562). A handy nugget for cocktail conversation, but that’s it.

Best Practice
This refers to a method or technique that delivers superior results compared with other methods and techniques. It is also perhaps the single most pompous confection the consulting industry has ever dreamed up.

Think Outside the Box

This tired turn of phrase means to approach a business problem in an unconventional fashion. Kudos to a reader who suggested: “Forget the box, just think.”

Boil the Ocean
This means to waste time. The thinking here, we suppose, is that boiling the ocean would take a long time. It would also take a long time to fly to Jupiter, but we don’t say that. Nor should we boil oceans, even the Arctic, which is the smallest. It would be a waste of time.

Reach Out

Jargon for “let’s set up a meeting” or “let’s contact this person.” Just say that. And, unless you want the Human Relations department breathing down your neck, please don’t reach out unless clearly invited.

It Is What It Is

Thanks. Idiot.

For a full list of 45 most annoying words and expressions to avoid, go to this Forbes web page.