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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The New 9-to-5er’s Guide to Office Lingo

You’re a week into your first corporate gig when your boss stops by your cubicle, coffee cup in hand (à la Office Space), and casually mentions, “Hey there, with the restructuring last week, we’re going to need some of your bandwidth to develop action items for the sales push—can we grab some time this afternoon?”


When you’re the new one, it can feel like your boss is speaking another language—one filled with buzzwords and acronyms that even a good set of Corporate Flashcards couldn’t prepare you for. We’ve been there. So, if your manager’s lingo has your head spinning, here’s your guide.


n. time or capacity to do work, particularly work that was not originally assigned to you

“If you have some bandwidth today, can you take over one of Amy’s financial reports?”

If your manager asks you if you have any bandwidth, she wants to know if you have any spare time aside from the projects you’re already working on. The correct answer is almost always: “I’m pretty busy with [insert reminder of what else she assigned you], but could make time for this if needed [or if I deprioritize project X].”


v. contact

“I’ll ping you after my meeting so we can find a time to discuss last month’s numbers.”

Though it’s not clear why there needs to be a term in place of simple words like “call” or “email,” corporate culture has invented one. “Ping” means to contact someone by any of several methods—which makes it even more confusing. You’ll instantly be reminded of the dilemma you used to face with your high school crush: “Wait—does he want me to call? Email? Text?”

Drill Down

v. go into more detail

“When we drill drown into that account, we can see that they made a purchase last week.”

Again, we have a simple word that means the same thing: Look. Yes, drilling down means to look further into a matter in order to get more details. But you wouldn’t want to be caught using a regular word, now would you?

Deep Dive

n. a more detailed analysis than what you did last time

“I need you to do a deep dive into last week’s numbers to figure out our budget for next month.”

Pick up a venti latte and get ready to strain your eyes, because if you’re asked for a deep dive, it usually means you’ll be looking at data for a long time. Typically, this means a time-consuming look into numbers or other documents for the purpose of gathering detailed information—just how you wanted to spend your lunch break.


Circle Back

v. catch up later

“After you resolve the issue with the client, can you circle back to me?”

When someone asks you to circle back, she usually means something to the effect of “check back in” or “follow up.” Because, again, we already had words that meant the same thing, but wanted to make sure we had a more important-sounding phrase to use in the office.

Bubble Up

v. tell your boss what’s going on—but only if it’s important

“If a client’s giving you trouble, make sure to bubble it up.” 

This is your boss’ way of saying—I will help you if you need it, but only bring me the important stuff. Instead of asking the woman who sits next to you about how to handle the inconsolable client on the line, tell your direct supervisor—he’ll be more helpful than your cubemate anyway.



v. tell other people, so your boss doesn’t have to

“We’ll need you to cascade the information about the budget cuts to your team.”

When your management team can’t stand to be the bearers of bad news, they’ll tell you to cascade information down to your team—meaning it’s up to you to let your employees down gently. Good luck.

Take it Offline

v. talk about this later

“If you’d like to discuss that further, we’ll have to take it offline.”

This term is usually used when you’re getting a little off topic during a meeting, or need to talk about something confidential. So even if you thought the team meeting about next year’s budget was the perfect segue into a conversation about why you deserve a raise, you’ll need to meet separately rather than discussing in front of the entire department.

Ridiculous as this term is (you’re “online” in the meeting?), it’s also very useful for reminding Joe from Marketing and Susie from Partnerships that no one else in the sales meeting wants to listen to them hash through every detail of the new ad campaign.

High Level View

n. a vague description

“I only have a few minutes, but I can at least give you a high level view of our software functionality.”

A high level view explains a concept without getting into the small, technical details. This is usually used when there’s limited time—or when it’s outside your area of expertise and you really don’t want Steve from IT to explain the nitty-gritty details to you, anyway.


Low-Hanging Fruit

n. easily attainable accomplishments

“We need to go for the low-hanging fruit on this one for a quick boost in income.”

This particularly overused idiom refers to easily attainable accomplishments, quick sales, or goals that you can tackle immediately. Or, in other over-used corporate words, “quick wins.”



n. potential sales to existing clients

“Let’s take advantage of our whitespace and have our inside sales team start reaching out to all our Tier 2 clients.”

This industry term refers to potential sales that can be made to existing clients. For example, if your company sells office supplies, and a current client only buys paper from you, possible whitespace could include the sale of paperclips and staplers. Because—hello—how else are they going to hold stacks of papers together?

Action Items

n. things you can do

“Let’s prioritize the action items for this project.”

As opposed to regular tasks on your to-do list, action items are tasks on your to-do list with a slightly more important title. They are also supposed to be a reminder that talking about stuff is not the same as taking action.


Going Forward

prep. in the future

“Going forward, you should focus on staying caught up on your project backlog.”

This seemingly friendly phrase isn’t as innocuous as it sounds—beware of serious undertones. These words can really mean “In the future, don’t ever do this again.”


Tell us! What are some of the cryptic buzzwords used in your office?

Photo of team meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.