Corporatese 101: Interpreting Basic Phrases

At 9:17am on August 27, 1998, the following verbal exchange took place as part of a three-day deposition in United States v. Microsoft Corp. The deposition has since become a case study in obfuscatory testimonial evasion, and it was so painfully awkward and tedious that it elicited laughs from the presiding judge when the videotaped interview was shown in court. It’s pretty funny, watch it.

David Boies: “Sir, are you familiar with the Microsoft Press computer dictionary?”
Bill Gates: “No.”
David Boies: “You’ve never cracked it open before?”
Bill Gates: “No.”
David Boies: “Well, I’ll introduce you to it.”

United States v. Microsoft: Part 1 of the Bill Gates Deposition


Welcome to Corporate America, home of the Reply-All, Casual Fridays, and a surprising lack of regulation. You’ll want to brush up on your Corporatese, because misinterpretations abound in the business world, and the more important you are, the costlier those misinterpretations become. For the sake of humanity, I’ve compiled an abbreviated dictionary below. Feel free to submit additions or comments on my Facebook page.


Corporatese: “Help me understand why you…”
English: “What the fuck was going through your mind when you…”

Corporatese: “downstream impact”
English: “when this stops being our problem and starts being someone else’s”

Corporatese: “best practices”
English: “A methodological stew comprised of other companies’ innovations that are only practicable under the conditions that we’re not actually replicating.”

Corporatese: “outside the box”
English: “inside our Model”

Corporatese: “our Model”
English: “Something no one has ever defined, but that helps us avoid answering questions directly.”

Corporatese: “I need you to give 110%.”
English: “I wish we could hire another 10% of you.”

Corporatese: “data-driven”
English: “so we can blame the analysts later”

Corporatese: “accountability”
English: “finger-pointing”

Corporatese: “Let’s take this offline”
English: “I don’t know enough about this topic to answer your question in this meeting, so let’s talk privately so I can call this same meeting again next week.”

Corporatese: “reach out to [insert coworker here]”
English: “bother [insert coworker here]”

Corporatese: “out of pocket”
English: “I’m deleting any email you send me.”

Corporatese: “low-hanging fruit”
English: “i.e. Fruit that’s already been picked by a more nimble organization, so we go after the fruit lying on the ground, dead and covered in ants.”

Corporatese: “action item”
English: “Nobody actually track these, and if a busy executive asks about one, just say that you never received clear direction on that particular item.”

Corporatese: “goals”
English: “the only bar by which we have to gauge your productivity”

Corporatese: “I’m bullish on…”
English: “I feel great today, let’s risk a bunch of money on something stupid.”

Corporatese: “We need them to buy-in on this.”
English: “We need them to sell-out to us.”

Corporatese: “career suicide”
English: “The erroneous idea that a person’s corporate misfortunes were somehow as intentional as suicide.”

Corporatese: “Do a deep dive on [topic].”
English: “Draft a report that I’ll never read.”

Corporatese: “human capital”
English: “Depends. In America, it’s New York City.”

Corporatese: “turn-key solution”
English: “magic bullet (aka: trick question)”

Corporatese: “onboarding process”
English: “The time it takes you to realize you won’t be doing what you thought you signed up for.”

Corporatese: “org chart”
English: “The company’s NCAA Tournament bracket for everyone’s ideas”

Corporatese: “workflow”
English: “arrive, Facebook, email, Facebook, lunch, Facebook, work, Facebook, snack, Facebook, leave”

Corporatese: “pipeline”
English: “Where your request falls into this depends on how much I like you and how much work it is.”

Corporatese: “fire, restructure, let go, make redundant, etc.”
English: “We don’t like you.”

Corporatese: “value-added”
English: “Nobody knows what this means, so put on your bullshit-proof jacket and ask the person using the phrase to clarify.”

Corporatese: “I want to empower you.”
English: “I want to make you feel important, you useless piece of shit.”

Corporatese: “bleeding edge”
English: “Apparently ‘cutting-edge’ isn’t enough sometimes, consumers have to bleed. A shard of broken circuit board might qualify.”

Corporatese: “I have a couple of fires burning.”
English: “this executive’s entire team is about to become a bucket brigade

Corporatese: “synergy”
English: “working with others, which always sucks”


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