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Cliché of the Day: Stick to Your Guns

March 18, 2018

Today’s advocates and opponents of gun control are likely to “stick to their guns” and continue believing what they believe.

We don’t know where this expression originated, but the idea of sticking to guns is a pretty odd concept. Are you sticking with Velcro? Gorilla Glue? Fly paper? It’s also not clear whether you can stick if you have only one gun. And what if you accidentally stick to a rifle or a crossbow?

Let’s bite the bullet and do away with gunstickingtoitiveness.

The Ecosystem of Environmental Metaphors

February 26, 2018

The hot air produced by eco-babbling consultants, activists and corporate executives has likely depleted more carbon than all of Chinese industry.

Use of environmental metaphors does not make a company environmentally friendly, green or sustainable, but, as the Paris Accord demonstrated, talking about the environment without actually doing anything can boost your image.

Remember Enron? The company was talking green and fuzzy in a big way just before it imploded.

Among the most-abused environmental terms are “ecosystem,” “ecology” and the term “environment” itself. Blame these environmental metaphors on consultant James F. Moore, who won a McKinsey Award for his 1993 article in Harvard Business Review, “Predators and Prey: A New Ecology of Competition.”

If you consider the workplace to be part of an ecosystem of living organisms, formerly known as employees, you should find work as a consultant. Who else would consider your cubicle to be part of an ecosystem?

Environmentalism has also the latest generation of efficiency experts, as businesses have stopped trying to be efficient and are instead seeking to be “sustainable.”

“Sustainable” business practices may be beneficial, reducing both waste and environmental damage, but the only way for a business to be truly sustainable is to unplug every machine and prevent employees from breathing.

Let’s continue to make businesses more efficient while reducing their impact on the environment, but the environmental metaphors are no longer sustainable.

Abused Words of the Day: Touch Base.

February 5, 2018

I’m not sure where the “base” is, but I’m guessing it’s somewhere near the box that everyone is thinking outside of.

Depending on whose base you’re touching, and where that base is located, you can get in trouble for touching base in today’s workplace. Trying calling or emailing instead.

To “touch base” is to “talk to someone for a short time to find out how they are or what they think about something,” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. We’re not sure at what point “short time” becomes “long time” and touching base becomes something else entirely.

This overused construction was recently named the most loathed example of “management-speak” in a British survey of 2,000 people. Apparently, “It is what it is” hasn’t hit Great Britain yet.

Cliché of the Day: Push the Envelope

February 1, 2018

Why would anyone push an envelope? What has the envelope ever done to you? Why not pull the envelope and push your weight? 

“Push the envelope is yet another cliché promoting violence, although it’s not as aggressive as throwing someone under the bus.

You may be surprised to learn that the “envelope” in this case isn’t made of paper. According to The Phrase Finder, “The envelope here isn’t the container for letters, but the mathematical envelope, which is defined as ‘the locus of the ultimate intersections of consecutive curves’. In a two-dimensional example, the set of lines described by the various positions of a ladder sliding down a wall forms an envelope - in this case an arc, gently curving away from the intersection of the wall and floor. Inside that envelope you will be hit by the ladder; outside you won’t.” 

Does that clear things up for you? Me neither. Math was my best subject growing up, but that was a long time ago. 

Envelopes, whether they’re containers for letters or loci of ultimate intersections of consecutive curves, should not be pushed without just cause. 

Abused Word of the Day: Literally

January 29, 2018

When Merriam-Webster gave “literally” two seemingly opposite definitions, its writers noted that some readers were not happy about it. The definitions:

1) in a literal sense or manner: actually
2) in effect: virtually

This led readers to leave comments such as, “This is literally the stupidest thing I've ever read. 

Most often, the first definition is the desired one. And, most often, the word is literally unnecessary. It’s typically used for emphasis, as in, “I’m literally down to my last dollar.” In this case, as in most others, the sentence is stronger without it: “I’m down to my last dollar.”

You can extract the word from your vocabulary and never notice that it’s missing. But you may find that it is occasionally handy. 

Last week, I had to explain to a friend that he literally couldn’t buy a house on the water.

 

Cliché of the Day: Give 110%.

January 25, 2017

Sure, it’s important to try your hardest, but it’s impossible to give 110%. It’s even impossible to give 100%, unless you give up breathing, eating and other important functions that have nothing to do with your job.

If your boss asks you to give 110%, ask for 110% of your salary in your next paycheck. Giving 110% doesn’t add up. 

Cliché of the Day: Blue-Sky Thinking

January 22, 2018

It’s ironic that “blue-sky thinking” is a synonym for “brainstorming.” Whether you’re a fan of brainstormy weather or, like Irving Berlin, envision “nothing but blue skies from now on,” you should know that “blue-sky thinking” made the list of most hated jargon terms in a survey by Glassdoor.

I suppose “blue sky” means thinking unobscured by clouds, birds, airplanes, hot air balloons, satellites, nuclear missiles or other miscellany that blot out the sun. So if your mind is as blank as the sky is blue, you’re ready for some blue-sky thoughts. In other words, the term should be used only by managers who want their employees to stop thinking.

Cliché of the Day: Hit the Ground Running

January 19, 2017

If you “hit the ground” while you’re running, you’ve either tripped or passed out from exhaustion. But, in the business context, “running” is the key word here. Those who hit the ground walking or jogging need to get “up to speed” and learn to “run with it.” If someone coming toward you is hitting the ground running, you may want to “hit the deck.”

Abused Words of the Day: The New Normal

January 18, 2018

Forty is the new 30, 60 is the new 40 and orange is the new black. For the economy, 2% growth is the “new normal,” until the economy grows at the old normal rate of 3+%. What was once normal is replaced by a new normal, at which point the old normal becomes abnormal. But what happens when the “new normal” grows old?

Cliché of the Day: Life Is a Journey

January 17, 2018

Life is a journey, alright. And it’s an especially arduous one if you have to listen to banalities like “life is a journey,” “the journey to recovery,” “life is a journey, not a destination” and other variations. You can find many additional examples on inspirational posters, but it’s not going to inspire those of us who dislike clichés and hate to travel. “Life is a journey” has traveled far enough. Let’s retire it.