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Do You Speak Consultant-ese? 20 Buzzwords to Know Now

When you’re a consultant, it’s a plus to be multi-lingual in case you get put on an international project. But what many new consultants don’t expect is that they’ll need to speak a second language from Day 1: Consultant-ese.

That’s right: Consultants have pretty much developed their own dialect, which can make it very difficult for someone who’s not familiar with it to keep up. So, before you get stuck slack-jawed when your boss asks you to stop boiling the ocean and give him a 20,000 foot view on your deck since he has a hard stop before his client touchbase EOD, study up on the list of vocabulary below. You’ll be conversing (or confusing) like a true management consultant in no time!

20,000-Foot View

No, this isn’t what consultants see out of airplane window after airplane window: It’s a summary of a situation in which most details are omitted and only key points are discussed. But don’t be confused if someone throws out another number (i.e., 5,000- or 10,000-foot view)—it means exactly the same thing.


An acronym for “Any Other Business” that gets used in meeting agendas to refer to miscellaneous items. You know, because we needed to find a consultant-specific word for "Misc."

Boil the Ocean

It’s easiest to think literally about this one: Trying to get an ocean to boil would surely be a difficult and time-consuming task, and really, what would be the point? Same goes for a tough task that has little or no value—forget it and move on.


Another way to say “categories” or “groups” when talking about a project—and another needlessly consultant-specific term.


Support or agreements from stakeholders (i.e., what you’ll spend your blood, sweat, and tears trying to work toward).


The #1 most important number in your job, this refers to the hours you get to bill a client for. Think of it like your consultant GPA: The higher, the better.


An alternate term for a PowerPoint presentation, likely created because consultants are too busy working on said presentation to say or spell out seven syllables.


The final products that consultants give to clients at the end of a project, often including decks, Excel models, research papers, and their souls (just kidding).

Engagement / Project / Case

A specific piece of client work. Think of each engagement like a new job that comes with its own set of responsibilities, new managers, and a complete onboarding process. Just when you thought you were done with the whole new job thing!


This is simply an acronym forend of day.” For your clients, this means 6 PM. For you? Circa when the sun rises the next morning.

Hard Stop

When you absolutely can’t run past the time allocated for a given activity (i.e., you need to leave the 2 PM meeting right at 3). Hint: When you have a meeting with chatty colleagues, you always have a hard stop.


One of the most overused words in the industry, this refers to the use of resources, materials, knowledge, or people in order to get what you want. I’ve heard consultants leverage everything from breakfast to that super-smart-PhD-we-just-hired to help them accomplish their work.


An acronym forMutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive,” which means that your solutions and data should have no gaps or overlaps.

On the Beach / On the Bench

While it would be great to spend time working on the beach, this actually refers to a consultant who’s not currently staffed on an engagement. Unfortunately, this time is rarely spent sipping margaritas poolside—you’ll likely be helping with other work around the office or trying to find a project.

Rock Star

These people are the Lady Gagas of the consulting world, true top performers complete with fans, promoters, and a lineup of shows—er, engagements.


As if we needed another acronym! But this important one means “subject matter expert” and refers to the person you call first when you don't know much about a specific topic and want to save countless hours on Google. (i.e., Your client asks you to analyze the migratory patterns of birds in the Arctic as it affects their operations. There is likely a SME for that!)

Straw Man

Make you think of a scarecrow? Yep, that’s where this term comes from, referring to the outline of a document without all of its “stuffing,” or content.


The 25 Seamless meals you’ve ordered this month—and also an important point or action item from a meeting.

Tighten Up / Clean Up

Just like you need to clean up your desk, this term refers to cleaning up your deliverables—think grammar, formatting, spell check, and other fun stuff.


While wordsmithing may not be a vocation such as blacksmithing or goldsmithing, you can be sure your project manager will play this role by artfully adjusting the wording, grammar, and messaging in your documents.

Hopefully, this list will get you started speaking to your fellow consultants in a language they understand. For more great vocab to know, check out The Daily Muse’s list of office lingo and Management Consulted’s more comprehensive list of consultant speak.

Photo of consultant talking courtesy of Shutterstock.