out of pocket

Posted on July 19, 2017

a baffling term used to indicate unavailability, although the nature or owner of said pocket remains unknown; perhaps developed through mistaken conflation of ‘out of town’ with the standard phrase ‘out of pocket,’ which indicates expenses borne personally; in a business context the propensity to avoid simple, perfectly serviceable words like ‘unavailable’ or ‘unreachable’ that could connote a lack of team spirit has further driven usage of this term; a competing school of thought contends that this phrase has its roots in American football, when the quarterback leaves the area of protection afforded by his linesmen, though there is scant evidence to support this etymology 1

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  1. Confusion over the derivation of this term is widespread, with other speculative origins abounding on the internet, although none are definitive. It is noted as as a regionalism in parts of the Southern United States and has been attested in print as early as 1908, placing it among the limited examples of jargon that was not conjured up de novo by business types. 


Posted on July 12, 2017

(verb) additional revenues prospectively or actually gained over a baseline condition, as in “The new Asia strategy should lead to at least fifty million in uplift”; used somewhat evasively when the frank mention of lucre would be unseemly, thus attempting to avoid any negative connotations from foregrounding the fact that yes, this is money we’re talking about, and the acquisition of greater amounts is the driver behind the action in question; this usage stands in stark contrast to the definition common outside of business contexts, in which uplift generally refers to moral or social improvement

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Posted on July 5, 2017

(verb) to put firm boundaries on the period that will be spent on a certain task, with the implication that the necessary work can be finished within this allotment or that schedule adherence is more critical than completion, as in: “Bill, don’t work too long on that model, you need to timebox it and move on”; the concept is found in various formal project management methodologies that seek to manage schedules and prevent the user from getting bogged down in one activity to the detriment of the larger initiative; in the generic business context the term is often used for work of a lower priority

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pave the cowpath

Posted on June 28, 2017

to cause a random or archaic process, approach or system to become formally adopted or codified; stems from the folklore that street patterns in certain towns (e.g., Boston) were developed by paving the tracks worn into the earth by the meanderings of cattle; can suggest that due care has not been expended in determining whether an approach is optimal; also implies that the subsequent investments built around these paths will be too costly to change, as that would require the wholesale redesign of entrenched city infrastructure; alternatively, a more positive meaning is simply to improve effectiveness by enhancing an organization’s informal processes

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take off the blinders

Posted on June 21, 2017

to figuratively remove those constraints which narrow one’s field of vision, leading one to consider an issue in its entirety without assuming that current or historical limitations hold sway; the phrase originates from the practice of blocking a horse’s peripheral vision to prevent distraction from the path ahead and to keep the typically flighty animal from startling; can be derogatory in implication if this instruction is directed at a single individual, who is thereby insinuated to be insufficiently creative, flexible, or broad-minded

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Posted on June 14, 2017

a term used to indicate the ultimate result, sum up a meandering conversation, or introduce a note of finality to one’s point; derives from the accounting term in which net profits are the final line on an income statement after all deductions have been made; a general aversion to using monosyllabic terms by themselves (i.e. ‘net’) and a penchant for sounding clever has led to this unnecessary duplication (non-modifier or declamatory jargon is almost never monosyllabic)

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do a dipstick

Posted on June 6, 2017

to quickly check the status of a particular activity, often to ensure that appropriate progress has been made, as in “Let’s do a dipstick on the report this evening and see how far we’ve come”; derives from the process used to check an automobile’s oil reserve in which a flexible metal stick is snaked into the reservoir and marked at the fluid level; in the real world such monitoring is critical, as insufficient oil can lead to catastrophic engine failure; in the business context, by contrast, this term is used in an offhand fashion for issues with low stakes, as is often the case with jargon repurposed from other contexts

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salt the earth

Posted on May 30, 2017

to embark on a course of action that so damages existing capabilities or relationships that future success is hindered, as in “Don’t penalize the whole company just because the Western division didn’t make its numbers, let’s not salt the earth here Tim”; derives from the legend of a victor punishing a vanquished group by spreading salt on its cropland, which purportedly renders it useless for agriculture; although the expression implies vengeful intent, in the business context it generally connotes recklessness rather than malice; salted earth is a side effect of particularly poor management; syn., poison the well

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t-shirt sizing

Posted on May 23, 2017

a casual heuristic used to indicate rough estimates in a limited set of categories, usually small, medium, and large, as in: “We can’t do a full bottom-up evaluation of each market segment, just use t-shirt sizing for now”; derived from the practice of standardizing clothing into a limited set of sizes that provide adequate fit options for the majority of the population; related to traffic light (verb), when options are sorted into three categories that represent yes, maybe, and no (or analogous variants thereof)

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snakes to kill

Posted on May 16, 2017

discrete tasks that are to be accomplished in fairly rapid fashion, as in: “I don’t think I’ll make that meeting this afternoon Phil, we’ve got a bunch of snakes to kill”; has the benefit of evoking the vague danger and urgency of a reptilian infestation while avoiding any specifics on what must actually be done; despite the implied drama the tasks refered to are invariably mundane; rel., wood to chop, for jargonists with a more outdoorsy bent

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