Office Talk Dictionary



If you walked off the street and into an office for the first time you’d probably be utterly confused by some of the language that you would hear.  Not only is it more formal than casual conversation and contains business specific jargon, but it contains words and phrases that you would here nowhere else besides an office.

Consider the following conversation that could take place in any home:

Husband:  I think we need a new TV.

Wife: I don’t think we can afford one.

Husband: I think if we eat out a few less times we could.

Wife: OK, that’s makes sense.

Now let’s convert that to an office conversation:

Employee #1: I’ve written up a proposal based on the need for a new digital content display.

Employee #2: I don’t know that we can support that in the current fiscal year.

Employee #1: My analysis shows that we would have the ROI but I’m not sure about the resources to implement the project.  I’ll work through channels to see if we can actualize on this.

Employee #2: Are you sure you have the bandwidth to make this happen?

Employee #1: Sure, I just hope there aren’t any red flags that turn out to be show stoppers.

This talk can be confusing to anyone not in an office on a daily basis and so this dictionary of office talk or office speak was created for people who are new to the office environment.  It contains over 500 words and phrases that you will hear in an office setting and almost never hear outside of the office with that meaning.

A word of caution – many, if not all, of these words are disliked when they are used too often.  Some are just annoying in their own right.  Your best bet is to just use them sparingly.  You can spread them out occasionally and you’ll sound like an up and coming business professional.  Use them too often and you’ll start to sound like someone who doesn’t know what they are doing and people will start questioning everything that you do.

My suggestion is to use this guide to understand what it is that others are trying to convey to you.  After a while you’ll start to spot the folks that just like to scatter their speak with buzzwords just for the sake of doing do and those that know what they are doing.

Here are my top 10 tips for using this dictionary

  1. Start small – Try a word out.  If it feels right, go with it.  If it feels awkward, try again.
  2. Use them sparingly – Don’t use too many at once .
  3. Make sure you know the context! – Some words or phrases need to be used in context.  Look at the example sentences to understand the context a little better.
  4. Don’t go up against an expert – If someone is a professional buzzword user, it’s best to not try and out “business talk” them.  They already know that they are superior.  You can’t win.
  5. Know your industry – Some of these words are used in Information Technology shops.  Others in Financial shops.  Try to keep terms relevant.
  6. Be a listener – Listen to how people are talking.  You might be the quiet one at first but you’re taking it all in.
  7. Know your position – If you’re talking to someone who is above you, try and use positive actional words (like that’s even a word!)
  8. Be yourself – Like I said in tip 1, don’t try to use or say words that don’t reflect you.
  9. Be Flexible – This dictionary is a snap shot in time.  Some new words may come into parlance and some may go out of style.  Using a cutting edge word (see how I did that?) can reveal to someone if you are on the bleeding edge or old fashioned.
  10. Don’t carry this around – You’ll automatically looks like someone who doesn’t know what they are doing!

Office speak or jargon is a relatively new phenomenon but it’s become the way people talk in professional settings.  You won’t hear it outside of a business setting.  While there have always been words that are coined to suit the technology and times that it comes be, it wasn’t until the 80s that things started to shift.  Personnel departments became “Human Resources” and terms started shifting reflecting the increased use of computers.  E.g. Bandwidth.

By the 90s the phenomenon became so popular that words were entering popular vernacular and cartoons like Dilbert© were making fun of it.  Despite attempts to slow the tide, the speak became the norm and it is with us whether we like it or not.

This dictionary attempts to chronicle the most popular words in Office Speak but does not include every word.