The untold story of the most hated workplace clichés

By Mark Strauss Senior Science Correspondent at National Geographic

Where did all this office jargon come from? A condensed etymology

Is there a parlor game  where people can compete to see how many office clichés they can cram into the fewest sentences?

If there isn’t, there should be. We certainly have enough material to work with. (“Let’s circle back and consider whether this is in our wheelhouse. Ping me later, so we can touch base before the meeting.” 50 points!)

These verbal emoticons of drudgery convey more sentiment than meaning. We know that “synergy” is something that we’re all supposed to be aspiring towards, and that it’s a really, really good thing. But could any two people in a workplace agree on what it actually is?

Perhaps understanding the true origins of these terms would help — or, at the very least, confirm your worst fears that if something sounds like gibberish, it probably is.

“Let’s table this.”
What it means: “Let’s deal with this later.”

What it really means: “Let’s put this off until everyone forgets about it.”

Origin: This term goes all the way back to British parliamentary procedure, when a piece of legislation was placed on the speaker’s table for discussion. In most of the English-speaking world, to “table” something means to immediately take up an issue. But, in America, we do things our own way. Since the mid-19th century, Congress has used the phrase “table a motion” to postpone discussion. That’s because, in the U.S., a table became synonymous with an archive or a storage area, such as a shelf or a desk drawer.

Bonus fact: In the mid-15th century, to “table” meant to “provide food.” Those were better times.


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May 2016