« Time to Get Organized | Main | Are You a Messy-Desk Person? »

May 24, 2005

Tired Expressions I Hear at Work

Being a person who thinks about words quite a bit, I tend to get annoyed by them when they are used in tired expressions. Here are five sayings I hear at work that drive me nuts and what I’m thinking as I hear them:

  • At the end of the day”: Does this expression serve any purpose? What about at the beginning of the day or the middle of the day? Do those times of day not count? Wouldn’t whatever tripe came next make sense without “at the end of the day” leading into it?
  • “The 50,000-foot perspective”: Do you really think you’ve got the 50,000-foot perspective? Who are you kidding? When in search of the 50,000-foot view, I’ll seek the opinion of a B2 bomber pilot. Please enlighten me with your view from earth, thank you very much.
  • “Pushing the envelope”: First of all, just because you do something the slightest bit differently than how you’ve always done it doesn’t mean you’re pushing the envelope. Second of all, why does pushing the envelope mean what it does? Why is pushing an envelope a radical thing? At least “outside the box” makes a little bit of sense.
  • “Making lemonade out of lemons”: Whenever I hear this expression, it seems to be in the context of a complaint. And if you’re complaining, are you really making lemonade, or are you just sucking on the lemons?
  • “All things being equal”: All things are never equal. You might as well just set up your statement with “With the earth being a cube…” or “All people being perfect individuals…”

For the record, I’m guilty of saying all of these things at one point or another, and never are they more annoying to me than when I hear them coming out of my own mouth.

Share this post: Digg, StumbleUpon, del.icio.us, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Bookmark and Share

Posted by Thad on May 24, 2005 at 12:53 PM | Permalink | Comments (37) | TrackBack (2)


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Tired Expressions I Hear at Work :

» Trite Tedious Jargon from The Wine Commonsewer
Gentle Readers, Monster Blog cites a few of the most common phraseologies heard around the office. Typically these emanate from the lips of those who think they're trendy and with it. Here's one:“The 50,000-foot perspective”: Do you really think yo... [Read More]

Tracked on May 24, 2005 1:10:51 PM

» Management Jargon from Value Added HR - Four Groups
Some more wordology! I found these charmers via Thad at the Monster blog. I'll just repeat the phrases themselves, feel free to visit the post for the definitions. “At the end of the day” “The 50,000-foot perspective” “Pushing the envel... [Read More]

Tracked on May 28, 2005 4:36:13 AM


It's so true, when one of these gems accidentally comes out of your mouth you almost feel like you need a shower. Of course, at the end of the day you should get back to leveraging your core competencies.

Posted by: Marcus | May 24, 2005 5:52:24 PM

I agree with you about all but one: "All things being equal" doesn't mean that all things are equal, but rather, how two things would compare if there are no other considerations. It's another way of saying, "On this basis alone, A is the better choice." It's actually a smart and useful concept.

Posted by: C | May 25, 2005 2:21:07 PM

I like the "50,000" foot one actually. I work at Boeing, so sometimes it actually pertains to what we're talking about! (but we usually say "30,000".)

Posted by: Adam Phillabaum | May 26, 2005 12:45:13 AM

There are plenty of trite, useless business catch-phrases in the world, but the ones here are all at least somewhat meaningful. Better examples would have made a valid point more clearly.

"At the end of the day" is used to project the situation to a point in the future when things have settled down a bit.

"The 50,000 foot perspective" doesn't mean you're so far away from what you're looking at that you can't see it; it means that your view encompasses the context of what most people are focusing more tightly on.

"Pushing the envelope", I believe, has its roots in quite a specific technical meaning related to aviation, but in any case, it really means "stretching the envelope", or striving to bend what appear to be constraints, so you can get more done than you thought you could.

I've always liked "making lemonade out of lemons". In a card game, while some people complain about the cards they're dealt, others are busy playing them to their best advantage.

Of course "all things" are never "equal". That's the whole point of the phrase, which should really be "if all other things were equal". It has a valid meaning -- the speaker is intentionally averaging out the irrelevant bumps and valleys outside the focus of their comments, in order to make the comparison or assertion as valid as possible, and is being honest in saying so.

Now, how about some truly dumb business cliches, like "on a going-forward basis"; the much-overused "win-win", and another least-favorite, the common misuse of the word "touche"? I'll save those for another rant.

Posted by: David Watson | May 31, 2005 11:55:50 AM

I absolutely loathe the phrase, 'touch base'; even more so when people say, 'touch bases' or the truly awful, 'touch basis' - and I *can* hear the difference. If I wanted to touch anything, or anyone, I'd be a massage therapist, not an admin. We are so not doing anything remotely akin to baseball.

'Check in,' that would be accurate. Heck, I'd even settle for, 'let's talk later.' That would be lovely.

I'd actually be happy if anyone in my (government) office used the phrases complained about in the first post. At least they'd be new - to us.

Posted by: tigerbunny | May 31, 2005 9:02:54 PM

I'll add another hated phrase... "You have to work smarter, not harder!". Hey...thanks for pointing that out! I never noticed that I've been working 'stupid' up until now! I guess that's why you're the manager!

A more accurate translation of this phrase is usually.. "I've just added 25% to your workload, and given you no additional resources... It's up to you to figure out how to get the additional work done". You know... I think I'll work smarter instead of harder... and head to Monster, and start looking for a NEW JOB!!

Posted by: FourIron | Jun 7, 2005 6:10:02 AM

I just wanted to thank you Adam, for making sense of Thag's post. I had noi idea what the 50,000 foot perspective was until now. Some of that jargon does make perfect sense, whether it's overused or not, using it is the only way that some people will actually pay attention to what you are saying. I was in a college class a few years ago, and that was the was the professor spoke all of the time. Yes, it got very old, but it was the only was to getr his attention when trying to ask him a question, or asnwer one of his question.
Thanks again.

Posted by: Greg Dietz | Jun 8, 2005 7:50:55 AM

I have to agree with all of the trite phrases you have indicated. Jargon, like the 50k foot perspective, is meaningless to most of us, and therefore we ought to avoid it. You may want to add a phrase like, "...if past history is any indication." Except for people like Moses (prophets), the future is not yet history, and the present is only journalism. Given Newsweek's recent performance, journalism is only indicative of bias.

While you are at it, shouldn't passive voice be added? Thoughts spoken in passive voice are often characterized by a lack of clarity, and no responsibility for their impact is assumed by the speaker or writer.

Posted by: Keith Frank | Jun 8, 2005 4:40:31 PM

You might as well add "on the ground" to that group of buzzwords.

Posted by: Lee | Jun 9, 2005 4:10:26 AM

Some phrases I hate to hear in a management meeting are things like " Ok now we re on the radar screen with this customer" , or while we re trying to come to a conclusion on certain matters the higher manager in charge of the meeting says something like this:" Ok folks if we re all agreed on the matter lets get back to work and any that disagree make notes give them to me before we go home another meeting will be scheduled".

Posted by: James | Jun 9, 2005 4:24:55 AM

I remember my Dad complaining about overused phrases from the 40's, like "Let's run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it." At least the expressions have changed over the decades.
By the way, "pushing the envelope" comes from the book "The Right Stuff" by Tom Wolfe and was used by Chuck Yeager to describe taking an airplane higher and faster than ever before, and risking losing control in the thin air.

Posted by: Marty | Jun 9, 2005 7:24:50 AM


Your post is quite possibly the greatest waste of keystroke I have ever experienced; I feel dumber for having read it. For someone who claims to "think about words quite a bit" you demonstrate a significant deficiency in the ability to analyze the use of basic expressions.

Adam has many days ago taken my fun of explaining these phrases to you. I will, however, add a little to the Pushing the Envelope origin:

"The phrase has its origins in the world of aviation, where 'envelope' has, since at least the late 60s, had the meaning 'a set of performance limits that may not be safely exceeded.' Test pilots are often called on to 'push' a new aircraft's performance envelope by going beyond known safety limits, as in determining just how fast an airplane can be flown. In 1979 Tom Wolfe's best-seller 'The Right Stuff' vividly described the life of test pilots during the 50s and 60s, and it appears that this book, and the subsequent movie, did much to popularize the notion of pushing the envelope."

Source: [Mark Israel, 'Phrase Origins: "push the envelope"', The alt.usage.english FAQ file


Posted by: Fred | Jun 9, 2005 9:02:11 AM

I've been in operational managment for about 16 years, and it never ceases to amaze me the buzz words and phrases that so-called management gurus and consultants come up with. One that irks me is "think outside the box", and when I last heard that from the GM, my thought was "bud, you're the one getting paid to do that, since you don't do much of anything else". An old one that always seemed a bit crude for business was "let's get in bed with the customer".

Posted by: John | Jun 9, 2005 9:38:21 AM

I'm surpised that nobody listed "6 in one and a half-dozen in the other." I admit that this is a very logical phrase and effective in describing two separate circumstances that will have vitually the same results, but the problem nobody ever seems to say it correctly. I have actually people say things like "It's 6 on one hand and a dozen in the other."

Posted by: Paul | Jun 9, 2005 9:48:22 AM

When I hear "at the end of the day" I always want to finish it with "it will be night".

Posted by: linda | Jun 9, 2005 9:56:19 AM

Please get over it!

Posted by: Wheatcakes | Jun 9, 2005 10:12:35 AM

Aren't you being a bit "anal" by criticizing commonly made (trite) sayings? They do have purpose, just don't over use them. The benefit they do have is to soften a negative situation and they may also be a way to help someone who may not fully understand the situation as they could tie the 'trite' expression to the real meaning. Think about it for we have more than enought criticism and negative thought running through the world already. Be a realist.

Posted by: Winston | Jun 9, 2005 10:35:59 AM

The phrases listed aren't necessarity trite; they are usually just the result of an incomplete thought:
'At the end of the day' only means that the project you wasted so much time on didn't matter anyway.
'The 50,000 foot perspective' means that if you get as far away from a situation or a problem it loses relevance.
'Pushing the envelope' may have been in Chuck Yeager's book, but was often a slight to pilots who flew higher than their planes were intended to go and forgot to re-enrich their fuel mixture as they decended (engines seized). Whoops...
'Making Lemonade out of Lemons' usually means trying to get someone's crappy product design to market after you've already over-spent your manufacturing budget (with a resulting profit equivalent to a 9-year-old's lemonade stand).
'All things being equal', "Marty" should remove his head from the clouds, reinsert it where originally resided, and contemplate:
1. Why people say nicer things to Thad than they do Marty.
2. And why even God can't hit a 2_Iron. Important fact to know, during a thunderstorm.

Posted by: 2_Iron | Jun 9, 2005 11:05:27 AM

Think outside the box? Maybe you're just reshaping the "box."

Hey, wait! What box are we talking about? And who built it, anyway?

OK, I'm through.

Posted by: Gary | Jun 9, 2005 1:01:39 PM

Hey don't let me bother anybody but all you people that took the time to answer....you are off the clock...Right?

Posted by: Vince | Jun 9, 2005 4:04:52 PM

Actually I enjoyed reading the article and the comments that followed. I'd like to add one more phrase in the form of an acronym that I find irritating. "K.I.S.S". It's not that it's actually "verbalized" at my place of employment...instead it is subliminally inserted at the front of our computer program each day as we log in...it's not exactly motivating to start the day and think of your employer telling you to "Keep it Simple Stupid!"

Posted by: Mary | Jun 9, 2005 6:03:32 PM

Hype. That's what we are talking about. I've been listening to it for a quarter century, and I'm sick of it. During my career I have worked in four different areas of industry. Each group has had it's own expressions, acronyms and buzzwords. Adding to the confusion, some of them sound the same but have different meanings.

Posted by: Philip | Jun 9, 2005 9:48:34 PM

The one's I can't stand are, "I need to get me arms around it" and "I still need to speak to it."

Posted by: Patty | Jun 9, 2005 10:48:07 PM

Geez Thad
It would appear your comments caused quite a SNAFU amongest all the glass half-full/half-empty people if "ya know what i mean". was that enough??? I have more

LMAO Geoff

Posted by: Geoffrey | Jun 10, 2005 1:42:08 AM

Thank you!

I HATE "at the end of the day..."

My wife and I had a running bet that the expression had to be used at least once in each episode of "The Apprentice" and I rarely lost the bet.

On the other hand, "pushing the edge of the envelope" makes sense to me. With apologies to Wolfe, the phrase "the edge" is needed to make it applicable to its most common usage. (I don't have the book in front of me, but I suspect he used it that way...) I don't use the expression, though, because no one understands it.

Posted by: Wes | Jun 10, 2005 7:19:19 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.