Friday, July 20, 2007

The All Time List of Business Cliches

As I've written in many different posts, the art of using catchy business cliches and phrases is just out of control. I've had my share of cliche throwing bosses and each one thought they were incredibly witty and effective, when in fact they boring, regular, and incompetent. The other night I was talking to my wife about the latest barrage of cliches from my week and she said "you should make a list, I bet it would be funny". Well, here goes...


  1. We've got to get our basic blocking and tackling down
  2. Pick the low hanging fruit
  3. Let's think out of the box
  4. How can we make this a win-win situation
  5. Eat the elephant one bite at a time
  6. Let's get our arms around it
  7. I'm looking for your to knock the ball outta the park
  8. You have to look at this problem from the 30,000 foot level
  9. Don't throw anyone under the bus
  10. It's the 80/20 rule at work here folks
  11. Let's cross that bridge when we get to it
  12. It's water under the bridge
  13. The ball is in your court
  14. I think we can agree to disagree
  15. He'll due the lion's share of the work
  16. Take it with a grain of salt
  17. A good rule of thumb is...
  18. He is finally in his element
  19. You're comparing apples to oranges
  20. That's as clear as mud
  21. Everthing from soup to nuts
  22. The whole nine yards
  23. It's crunch time!
  24. Don't put your eggs all in one basket
  25. Fail to plan and plan to fail
  26. Get your feet wet
  27. You can expect what you inspect
  28. Go with the flow
  29. Rome wasn't built in a day
  30. Moving forward
  31. Let's not put the cart before the horse
  32. You're barking up the wrong tree
  33. That's just a drop in the bucket
  34. Stop beating around the bush
  35. Can't see the forest for the trees
  36. Caught between a rock and a hard place
  37. Leave your footprint on this project
  38. Let's not beat a dead horse
  39. In a nutshell
  40. Timing is everything
  41. Strike while the iron is hot
  42. Don't burn your bridges
  43. Step up the plate
  44. At the end of the day
  45. Be proactive not reactive
  46. There is no *I* in team
  47. Lead, follow or get out of the way
  48. Let's not rock the boat
  49. Don't lean to one side or we'll tip the canoe
  50. Everybody on board the Job Express
  51. polarized redundancies
  52. Storm the Winter Palace
  53. on your plate
  54. Business Is Going To Be Hard To Get = BIGTBHTG
  55. Take the ball and run with it
  56. its 4th and 10
  57. it's on his/their radar screen
  58. That dog'll hunt
  59. Let's whiteboard this thing
  60. loaded for bear
  61. Let's swing for the fences on this one
  62. How do we monetize this
  63. Let's schedule a knowledge transfer
  64. you load my gun for me and I'll shoot
  65. 110%
  66. let's make sure we're all on the same page here
  67. run this one up the flagpole
  68. Value-Added

Phew. That's all the cliches and phrases I could think of in one sitting. I'd like to add to the list and get your feedback. Either leave a comment or email me at with your additions to the list. Let's see how big we can get this thing!


1) Eating our own dogfood.
2) Selling sizzle.
3) Burning our boats.
4) Step up the plate.
5) At the end of the day.
6) You need to be proactive. (Fortunately this term seems to have fallen out of favor.
7) There is no *I* in team. (But there is an *M*E*)
8) Lead, follow or get out of the way. (Wait, only I use this one. Never mind.)

Hey Bodwen,

Good list. Step up to my plate is one I hear often and be proactive not reactive is another one. Very funny.

Turtle King

The one I have heard in every workplace (starting at 15 when I worked at A & W) :

Don't assume. It makes an ass out of you and me.

So, here are a few that you can add in your good time.

Let's not rock the boat

Don't lean to one side or we'll tip the canoe

Everybody on board the Job Express

Workers in my department say I'm like a mushroom because I'm a really fun guy.

If we set the bar high enough, nobody will bump heads.

I had one boss who was a sports fisherman and thankfully I have forgotten most of what he ever said to me.

1) I have read your list and I have a question:

I understand the meaning behind "get our arms around it" but I have heard people using the phrase, "I'm trying to get my head around it" when referring to a (God forbid) new idea, theory or program.

This makes absolutely no sense. How does anyone get his/her head "around" anything? Wouldn't it make more sense to say, "I'm trying to understand it" ?

And as long as I am treating you as "Mr. Language Person", where in the hell did this saying come from?

2) I don't recall if you have this one on your list or not. May I add a personal favorite?
"Run it up the flag pole and see who salutes".

This is nice since it incorporates some kind of pseudo-military garbage with the hilarious overtone of anyone at work having the option to disagree with any really bad idea that comes along. It gets the same response as, "What do you think? It's a great idea, isn't it?" which I have always found to be strictly rhetorical in intent.

After extensive research I have found the meaning of the cliche/phrase "I'm trying to get my head around it". It basically refers to trying to cope with, deal with, or understand something like a problem or issue you are facing. The phrase is french and comes from the french phrase:

La prochaine fois que vous affrontez une situation de stress ou d'échec grave, au point où vous avez envie de tout arrêter, de vous asseoir par terre et d'enfouir votre tête entre vos bras pour pleurer, au lieu de vous morfondre ainsi, installez-vous confortablement et faites une liste de tous les points positifs que vous pouvez tirer de cette expérience

Which translated means:

The next time you are faced with a disappointing or stressful situation that you just can't wrap your head around, sit down and make a list of all the positives that you can take from the experience

One other variation is "wrap your mind around it" which relates to not being able to take it in, process it, absorb it, etc.

I do not have any business cliches to add BUT I have some of my own.

Here is one from my grandmother: "The wind has ears" She meant to keep your mouth shut or your secrets wil become known and you will be screwed. Therefore, before you open your mouth think aobut what you will ask and how it will be taken in context in your business affairs.

Here is one that I use almost EVERY day: "It is not about me, myself and I. Rather, it is about US, WE and OURS" In your place of business, we are a team. And as a team we generate income or profits that increases the companies bottom line. Take ownership of everything we do at work and be proud of your contributions.

Well, if we are going to bring our grandmama into this. Mine had one she used whenever my mother started talking about my father (negatively, as usual but he deserved it then): Little Pitchers Have Big Ears, meaning don't talk about things you don't want others to hear especially if the person you don't want to know about the subject is standing right there.

Another one from her quite often was: Hey, I don't swim in your toilet, so don't p e e in my pool, meaning I don't do or say anything about you so don't do or say anything about me.

There are also other, more colorful, phrases concerning kissing up to people that both my mother and grandmother used to say a lot and which I heard some people say at my very first ever job. Since moving West, I haven't heard them. Either they have gone out of style or are an East Coast thing. They would probably be deleted for nonconformity reasons.

Many years ago, myself and another contractor were hired on a 6 month contract with a particular company. Now this was the time when companies had all these team, quality circle, continuous improvement and reengineering programs in place.

This particular company had adopted a lot of this corporate speak and all the catchy phrases but that was as far as they got. They didn't have any real systems or procedures in place, other than the verbiage. So it was a case of The Emperor's New Clothes.

People said, "We're a team" and that magically made them a team. They could have easily have called themselves a dozen donuts or a herd of buffalo for all that it mattered.

Anyway, myself and this other contractor began making up our own meaningless jargon. The funny thing was that people began using our phrases - the ones we had made up out of thin air!

We actually saw phrases like "polarized redundancies" and "Storm the Winter Palace" in management status reports. We just made all this nonsense up.

Making up your own jargon and then seeing other people in the company actually use it is hilarious. That's the kind of stuff I do and then watch the lemmings follow. LOL...very good stuff!

There is no "I" in TEAM

We have to stay proactive about this

Together WE can make a difference

"Together we can make a difference" is a good one. Then you leave the meeting and no one works together, people backstab and undercut you so nothing ever gets done.

I'm really liking the responses thus far. Let's keep it going. WE need more to build the all time list!

- at the end of the day

- on your plate


There was an insurance company in Chicago which had a big "brainstorming" meeting about getting new business. The slogan that came up and was agreed upon was "BIGTBHTG". They had these -large- red white and blue pin/buttons made with BIGTBHTG and passed them around to everyone. The employees were required to wear them for a week every day at work, especially those going out for lunch, to "get the word out, and to get questions asked about it, get that new business!". There were big BIGTBHTG posters everywhere - and really "in you face" in the reception area.

What did this mean?

"Business Is Going To Be Hard To Get"

They were absolutely serious about this big rah-rah campaign of theirs. Managers, wearing those buttons, were shouting "BIGTBHTG !!!" during the day. Their idea was to enspire employees to drum up new business, and that is what they came up with.

How silly that looked. But the sheeple went along with it. !

"Storm the Winter Palace" was my version of "Take the ball and run with it". We saw it on a status report.

There were a lot of sports analogies at the time to go along with the team/group think concepts. I don't hear it too much anymore because..

"At the end of the day, when your plate is full and its 4th and 10 and your manager is looking for a human sacrifice, you realize that on the top of your Performance Review, there is only one name on it - yours. So explain this team thing to me again?" Many managers have been asked this question and have stumbled around for an answer.

Unless you are critiqued and reviewed as a team, you are a department but if you want to call yourself a bowl of peas or a girl scout troop, who are we to argue? Its not worth your time to challenge this.

By the way, at this one company, they didn't have supervisors, they had "coaches".

If you can get hold of a paperback book called "Games Your Mother Never Taught You" by Betty Harrigan, get it. Its about 25 years old, written for women but a classic on how stupid those managerial styles were.

My ol' German mother had a ton of them...

Three people can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
More people benefit by hearing the truth then by telling it.
There is the truth and there is the right answer. Make sure you understand the question.
Solving the same problem over and over again, pays the rent over and over again.
Any fool can tell the truth but it takes a genius to lie well.
The customer isn't always right but you can't fire them either.

How about, "it's on his/their radar screen" bleccchhh

Or, "do you have any bandwidth?" meaning, can you take on additonal tasks?
What am I , a router ?

My boss always says "That dog'll hunt". Drives me crazy!

heard this morning...
"Let's whiteboard this thing"

Also "whitespace" as a synonym for a "unexplored revenue streams"

heard this morning...
"Let's whiteboard this thing"

Also "whitespace" as a synonym for a "unexplored revenue streams"

Some of my favorites--or the ones I hear often--are:

"...loaded for bear"

"Let's swing for the fences on this one!"

"How do we monetize this?"

"Let's schedule a knowledge transfer."

~ divawire

Said by a clueless Senior Executive where I work....."you load my gun for me and I'll shoot"

How about 110%?

Overqualified? what the he!! is this about....not wanting to pay a guy his worth?

" Now, let's make sure we're all on the same page here"

let's "run this one up the flagpole"


Not to worry--- I have the Corporate BULLS*** BINGO card on the wall of my office!

We work with a person who always refers to areas on a report as "real estate" as in, let's not waste good real estate with alot of useless information. Always makes me laugh...

Minor correction:
"He'll due the lion's share of the work"

Should be "He'll DO the lion's share..."

Great list!

* References to "pushing the envelope"

* Think "outside the box"

* "Work your magic" on this project

Great listing from the last two anonymous posts. The "real estate" comment is something I have heard as well. I had a boss who also used the "work your magic" phrase to me everytime she entered my cubicle to request something. Very annoying. LOL

Let's do lunch

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I have to hear this on a regular basis in preface to some sort of BS.... "I'll tell y'all honestly.....blah blah blah"

I gotta buddy who loves using these cliches, so here goes:

1. It's in my wheelhouse.
2. Synergistically working my network.
3. I'm getting (not getting) "traction" (on that, with that
4. I'm head's down on that!
5. He's Big Time!
6. Risks and mitigators.
7. Help me understand!
8. I'm makin' it happen.

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