The art of business jargon: 7 of the most surreal phrases illustrated by David Doran

Is your team “lacking synergy”? Does your latest business strategy involve “low-hanging fruit”? Has your boss insisted you “get your ducks in a row”? Did reading all that business jargon make you incredibly angry? Well, you’re not alone.

We’ve all experienced nonsensical lingo, from the endless list of acronyms to trying not to “reinvent the wheel” while at work. Corporate jargon has become commonplace in the modern workplace, where irritating words and phrases that don’t exist outside of the office creep into regular use.

As secure file sharing experts, we’ve been exposed to more than our fair share of bizarre business lingo. To explore these curious phrases, we collaborated with award-winning illustrator David Doran to visualize some of the most surreal examples of office jargon.

Move the goalposts

move the goal posts illustrated

Sports terminology is a common theme of business jargon, with “team player,” “touch base” and “call a timeout” some of the worst offenders.

“Move the goalposts” is a reference to football, describing a situation where the goals of a project change after it’s in progress, undermining the work that’s already been done.

Beat around the bush

beat around the bush illustrated

Perhaps the most commonly used example, the etymology of “beat around the bush” is rooted in an outdated hunting technique, where hunters would employ “beaters” to hit bushes and trees with sticks to scare birds so they could be shot or caught.

The workplace version of this phrase means to chat about an issue in an evasive manner, without getting to the point.

Boil the ocean

boil the ocean illustration

This aquatic term describes a business strategy or idea that is needlessly complex or requires significant, unnecessary legwork to achieve. This idiom usually indicates that a more efficient way of performing a task is possible.

Low-hanging fruit

low hanging fruit illustrated

This term is simple enough to decode; picking fruit from low branches is easier than picking fruit from higher ones. This phrase is used when a strategy or sales technique is believed to yield results with minimal effort.

Circle the wagons

circle the wagons illustration

The origins of this example of business jargon are found in the Wild West, where forming a circle of wagons containing valuable supplies would make them easier to defend against bandits. In the business world, “circle the wagons” means to come together in defense of a shared objective.

Reinvent the wheel

reinvent the wheel illustrated

The origins of this phrase aren’t widely known, especially as there’s no record of who actually invented the wheel. “Reinvent the wheel” usually has negative connotations; for example, conceiving an idea that’s too complex without offering any additional benefit.
This term can also be positive, meaning an idea that manages to enhance something that seems impossible to improve.

Get your ducks in a row

put your ducks in a row illustrated

The origins of this phrase stem from nature. Ducklings swim in a straight line behind their mother, so none of them become lost. If any of them stray too far, the mother will encourage them to get back in line for their own safety.

In the office, this term means to get things in order; for example, preparing an agenda before a presentation or pitch.

What office jargon riles you up? Let us know on the ShareFile Twitter or Facebook.