Death to Corpspeak

Today I’m shaking things up and letting someone else take the reins of All In Stride.

Meet my friend Will. Will and I went to grad school at Alabama together and instantly clicked. We could not be any more different on the outside, but slice open our brains (please don’t actually do that) and you’ll find we’re identical.

Merry Christmas from Dick and Jane

You see, we’re that rare breed of human that will stay awake the entire night to perfect a paper, fly high on caffeine and bad jokes, then perform flawlessly in class. We’re unicorns. And if it sounds like I’m bragging, I sure as hell am! We earned that right!

Our main difference is that while I curse and see red when I’m angry and struggle to put rants into cohesive thoughts, Will is eloquent, constructs his arguments in a sweet, Southern way, then leaves you doubled over with laugher at his snark. Which is why this collaboration of genius is about to go down.

Take it away, Will!

The Corpspeak Epidemic

All throughout college, I heard professors talk about the phenomenon of “corpspeak.” For those of you who haven’t heard of this, you’ve already been exposed to it.

Corpspeak (korp•spēek)


  1. The art of filling up pages and pontificating on points for extended periods of time, without saying anything conclusive or valuable
  2. At the end of the day, corpspeak is more or less a group of like-minded clichés with an MBA
  3. (See what I did there?)

Sound familiar?

In class we all laughed at this image:  Boardrooms, cubicles, and yes, even super-trendy open-floorplan offices, full of people saying it all without saying a thing. Then something happened.

I got “looped in” to my first email at my first job. Then I began “following up” and “reaching out” to people…which eventually led to meetings about “identifying the right stakeholders.”

Try again, this time in English

At that point I realized that I, of all people, had become fluent in corpspeak.

It wasn’t a deliberate choice. Looking back, it was more of a natural progression. One of those weird nuances that accompanies getting older that you can’t explain and don’t detect until it’s too late. Right in line with beginning to like grilled onions, ordering everything on your pizza and obsessively scrolling through the “documentary” section on Netflix, corpspeak – gradually and methodically – commandeered my vocabulary like a thief in the night.

So when I realized what had happened, I got curious as to why people even started doing this in the first place. A recent feature story from the New Yorker best encapsulated this for me. It explains how TED talks have allowed ideas to become a standalone industry. And with that comes the need for companies and individuals to differentiate themselves when they’re talking about already abstract items, which has raised the stakes in describing not only big ideas, but also daily tasks. The verbal gymnastics have since trickled down from the top-tier thought leadership conferences to the watercooler, where everyone is trying to stand out by describing what they do or what they think with more flair. (We all were warned about this years ago and should have seen it coming…)

Why say “we’re finishing the assignment now to send to the client” when you can “wrap it up and put a bow on it”?! And why bother proposing that you put off a topic until the next meeting when you can “park it in the parking lot”?! What imagery!

The man, the computer-counter, the legend – Dr. Phelps, our favorite Comm Theory professor

A recent article by Inc. specifically caught my attention, explaining how a recent study conducted by TalentSmart revealed that many people have lost sight of how their words affect other people and how there is a dearth of social awareness among the masses. Speaking specifically to corpspeak, they sum up the issue nicely.

Given all of this, it led me to reflect on the terms that I despise the most, and unfortunately have used on a routine basis. I felt my career as a communicator depended on it.

So a few weeks ago I began cutting out all of the corpspeak from my vocabulary at work whenever the opportunity presented itself.

No gum. No support group. Just me getting back to bas-…I’m still not completely cured, but I’m making progress.

In the short time that I have made a conscious effort to cut out the flair, I have found myself to be more productive, and my teams operate with much less confusion. I’m hoping this continues to catch on, and that I can replace corpspeak with normspeak–using normal words and not trying to win a sixth grade creative writing competition with every interaction.

“You underestimate the power of the dark side”

To start my recovery I used a little word association exercise. I took the corpspeak phrases that I heard the most, used the most and despised the most, and made a list. For each word or phrase I paired it with my first thought. This turned out to be pretty entertaining, and truly brought out the ridiculousness of each term. I present to you in no particular order my list of phrases that kill me inside:

Looping inI’m not a bull

Let’s discuss the next steps—Such as slideeee to the left, slideeee to the right. CRISS CROSS.

Get on the same page—Friends, I don’t even want to be in the same book

Deep dive—I won’t be holding my breath

Touch base—Runner is OUT

Let’s park this item—Good, easier for me to hit it with my car

I’m going to push back on this one—At Alabama, we call that “run blocking”

I’ve got a hard stop at 2 p.m.—So you’re that important, eh?

There are lots of moving parts—You’re no engineer, stop it

Let’s put this to bed—”You wanna go night night?” – Kevin Hart

Let’s look at the big picture—*checks phone for movie times coinciding with lunch break*

This needs to be repeatable and measurable—Like whiskey shots

We need to be strategic about this—So this means we need at least four more meetings about the same thing

Let’s take this offline—*AIM door open sound* A/S/L please?

Let’s push this over the goal line—Not up in here! #RTR

We need to drill down—Doesn’t that cause earthquakes?

I’m going to reach out—”I’ll never let go, Jack”

This is bleeding edge technology—I know we said you were a sharp person, but geez…

It shouldn’t be a heavy lift—Good, wearing this back brace is uncomfortable in my ergonomic chair

At the end of the day, it is what it is—…which is…?

I’m still working on it, but I can already tell an improvement. So for each of you struggling with this in your own workplace, I hope that you can find solace in knowing you are not alone. And I hope that you can adopt a few of my own word associations to help you get the ball rolling on the road to recovery.

Three cheers for my #APRFamily! Thanks for the words, Will!

One Comment

  • soccerdawg

    Luckily, I’ve been insulated from most of this because I’ve been in the newspaper world, but some of those cliches have oozed into the vernacular like the slime they are.
    A couple of journalism cliches that make me want to punch someone in the throat:
    Evergreen — a story that can run anytime. Usually around Christmas, editors are sending out emails begging for Evergreens. Often, in ALL CAPS!
    Maestro — As in, Let’s Maestro this story. It’s a really stupid bullshit word that some dumbass made up that means something like getting all departments into a meeting to talk about how it will be packaged. I think. I’m not really sure because every time I hear it, I become blind with rage.
    Actually, here’s the Wikipedia version: “The Maestro concept begins with a “great story idea” that is generated through collaborative idea-group meetings to shape stories before they are written and integrates writing, editing, photography, art, and design.[1] The Maestro concept is not applied to all stories all the time. The concept applies only to those stories that are integrated with photographs, design elements, and infographics. It is a method designed to improve presentation of important stories through teamwork that brings the story to life and results in high impact and high readership.”
    Muuuuuurder! Muuuuuurder!

    Anyway, I like this blog, except for all that Alabama nonsense. Go Dawgs!

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