An Illustrated Guide To Office Clichés We Should Stop Using

Every office is a microcosm all of its own. The same bunch of people turn up week after week, to work under high pressure towards a fixed goal – it’s no wonder if they all start to act and talk like each other. In-jokes and nicknames that make no sense outside of those four walls become the order of the day.

Yet a handful of office-speak phrases seem to have crossed cultures from one office to another and another…  until they have become clichés that people everywhere recognize – even if they don’t really know what they’re supposed to mean!

How many times, for instance, have you been told you’re trying to “square the circle” on one task or another? It sounds like kindergarten stuff, but this workplace cliché is not so complicated when you think about it:

  • a circle is a circle
  • trying to make it into a square is impossible
  • even if you could, it wouldn’t be a circle any more.

You might think of this phrase as being the thinking professional’s version of trying “to fit a square peg into a round hole”.

Pushing the envelope” is a stranger one: most of us get that this means trying to do something to a high standard. It refers not to the familiar office paper envelope, but to the ‘flight envelope’ used in aeronautics to describe the safety factors in a given trip – with test pilots being expected to test the limits by figuratively ‘pushing’ that envelope.

And if all is going well, you might want to take your idea and “run it up the flagpole”, meaning:

  • Put your idea out there
  • See who salutes it!

If you’re having trouble keeping up with all the yuppie jargon of your workmates, try taking a look at this illustrated guide to office clichés. That way, you’ll always know what’s going on when your colleagues are bringing you up to speed.

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