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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slice butter with an ax

Posted on May 10, 2017

to achieve an objective using entirely disproportionate means, disregarding the sensitivities of the task and often risking collateral damage; synonymous with use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, both phrases evoke the ponderous swing of a brute force tool and the mess left behind by someone whose zeal exceeds his judiciousness1; an inverse variant is death by a thousand paper cuts, which refers to the eventual collapse of an initiative or institution through the cumulative effect of numerous irritating but individually underwhelming blows; were this entry to continue explicating this jargon much further it would risk becoming an example of the very thing being defined

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  1. Like a Lenny, with potentially tragic consequences if you’re the mouse. (This footnote brought to you by middle school English class.)

eat the seed corn

Posted on May 1, 2017

to utilize something, out of desperation or shortsightedness, that should rightly be preserved to enable later growth or success; in a business context often refers to redirecting investments that would have ensured future revenues to plug short-term needs, undermining the company’s ability to stay relevant and/or solvent in the long term

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Posted on April 26, 2017

a particular area of competence or expertise where one can expect to excel, often due to extensive experience; typically used as a self-situated metaphorical place, as in “Let me handle the negotiations with the Brazilian team, I lived in São Paulo for three years so it’s in my wheelhouse”; the word refers to the control room of a ship, presumably alluding to the authority and mastery contained within, although the average business user has no inkling of the term’s nautical connotations; in common usage prepositions may be omitted entirely, leading to expressions such as “That data analysis was rough, it’s definitely not my wheelhouse”

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water the grass in a thunderstorm

Posted on April 18, 2017

to perform an action whose effects will be negligible in comparison to broader forces at work, and will be difficult or impossible to accurately measure, as in “We don’t need to send someone to Times Square to shill for Hamilton,1 that’s like watering the grass in a thunderstorm”; used to highlight the futility of a proposed course of action and dissuade the hearer from further considering it; the length2 and obscure intent of this phrase conspire to render it exceedingly rare in actual usage, as jargon users tend to favor more jocund terms used in backslapping fashion

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  1. For those reading this at some remove from the United States and/or the year 2016, this is a Broadway play whose rapturous reception and breakout influence in wider society have created a pop culture juggernaut.
  2. Despite its apparent unwieldiness, this phrase is by chance in perfect dactylic trimeter, which does lend it a bit of poetic elegance.

fire drill

Posted on April 11, 2017

drill with flames and laptop

a frantic period of work generally triggered unexpectedly and requiring immediate resolution, taking precedence over other activities which may be dropped midstream; can be used more deviously to obtain periods of unaccountability while remaining mum on specifics, as in, “I’ll be out all morning, we’re dealing with a bunch of fire drills”; as with much jargon this phrase is no longer congruent with its real-world origin, which refers to a mere simulation of an actual emergency and is usually planned in advance

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Posted on April 5, 2017

(verb) to ensure that figures agree with each other or reflect accurate arithmetic; used in reference to multiple figures provided in the same analysis, as in: “Let’s make sure all the numbers in the document foot, they didn’t add up last time”; this jargon is a truncation of “footnote” and trades on vague associations with the word, specifically that sources are contained therein, and that the presence of a footnote implies a level of analytical rigor that merits the placement of one

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flying formation

Posted on March 27, 2017

Business goose

the roles and working arrangements of a group that will be used for carrying out a specific task, as in: “Let’s regroup after the intro meeting so we can set our flying formation for the next two weeks”; derived from parlance common in the military, this phrase can evoke the high-stakes precision of air force jets executing a nighttime sortie, but also the lower-stakes whimsy of a circling flock of Canadian geese deciding which airport runway looks most appealing as a landing area 1

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  1. Which can suddenly become very high-stakes, as in the case of the unfortunate flock that chose a spot near LaGuardia Airport, thus launching Captain Sully into aviation lore (and creating another disaster/biopic opportunity for Tom Hanks).


Posted on March 22, 2017

walking nautilus

(verb, extremely obscure) to approach an answer or other desired endpoint in a slow, roundabout way, similar to following the whorls of a nautilus shell that gradually near and eventually reach the center; can be desirable or not, depending on context; effective usage of this term requires a mutual familiarity with cephalopod anatomy that is unlikely to be present in most business contexts

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