HR Insights

Raise the bar? Think Out of the Box? Biz Clichés and the Credibility Crisis

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Whenever I hear someone say “We need to raise the bar,” my first thought is: “Won’t that make it easier?” I guess not everyone is a limbo dancer.

Another expression that gives me pause is: Thinking outside the box.” Last week a surly, neon-tressed barista clubbed me with this one when I asked her why the smallest drink they have is a medium.

“I can tell you aren’t creative,” she said. “You aren’t thinking outside the box.” Hoping to avoid further abuse, I ha-ha’d softly and slid over to the register to pay for my medium coffee.

I was fatigued by all the banter so I didn’t have the strength to tell her that using a cliché to describe creativity makes less sense than telling someone to “shut up when you’re talking to me.”

Clichés and the credibility crisis

Clichés aren’t always bad of course, but some of our speaking habits are and they can cause us to lose credibility with our bosses, or worse – our customers. A couple of years ago my company was building a fence for a guy I know, and he asked if we could paint it white. “White as a sheep,” I assured him.

This guy laughed me out of his yard, down the street and around the corner. I should have said sheet. If you’ve ever heard Stewie Griffin mocking Brian for his novel “Faster than the Speed of Love,” you’ll understand the ridicule I suffered.

None of us wants to seem stupid, and that’s plenty of reason to make sure we know what we’re saying before our lips start flapping.

Here are some of the words, phrases and ideas you’ve probably heard misused. They’re all worth looking up, especially if you aren’t sure of their meanings:

  • Raises the Question/Begs the Question
  • Regardless/Irregardless
  • Moot/Mute
  • Jibe/Jive
  • 360/180 degrees
  • Literal/Figurative
  • Table a topic/Bring up a topic
  • Voila/Wa-Lah
  • Founder/Flounder
  • Decimate/Devastate
  • Pike/Pipe (coming down the)
  • Granted/Granite
  • Penultimate/Final
  • Flaunt/Flout
  • Supposedly/Supposebly
  • Either/Each

This isn’t my Waterloo

(If you can think of other misused words or sayings, please add them to the comments below.)

While I’m thinking about ambiguity and catchy expressions, Waterloo is another one that slows my end of a conversation when I hear it, as in: “She fought City Hall and met her Waterloo.”

The way I understand it, Waterloo was Napoleon’s final defeat (and not a British plumbing system as I originally believed.) Okay, but Waterloo was also where the Duke of Wellington chalked up his greatest victory. So to me, hearing “Super Bowl XXXII was John Elway’s Waterloo” tells me the Denver Broncos won the game – not that they suffered a crushing defeat. Maybe I’m just the kind of guy who always sees the glass as half greener on the other side of the silver lining.

I didn’t mean to write a pedantic post, but I guess I did. In any case, these kinds of verbal fumbles hurt our image and they’re worth knowing about. After all, if you have a smart boss and he hears you say something like “We lost our shirt on that deal – we need an escape goat,” he may just think you’re the perfect goat for the job.

David Sneed is the owner of Colorado-based Alpine Fence Company and author of Everyone Has A Boss – A Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, husband, entrepreneur, author, and teacher, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the personal benefits of a strong work ethic to entry-level employees. Contact him at David@EveryoneHasABoss.com.
  • http://www.facebook.com/olivia.hensley Olivia Hensley

    I once had a boss who used the term “feast or phantom.”  It was hard to keep a straight face when she said that, and she said it a lot.

    • David

      Bahahaha. I literally laughed out loud.

  • Karker

    I see “looser/loser” mixed up all the time. And “tenet/tenant.”

  • TebowFan

    Voila/Wah-lah

  • Adam

    I had a boss that would say, ‘In any event,’ repeatedly. Except that instead of saying the whole phrase he would just say, ‘Any event.’ :-)

  • Valerie

    Thank you for mentioning 360/180!  The expression has always been “do a 360″ which means to turn something completely around so its different from how it started.  “Do a 180″ means nothing except you don’t know what you’re saying.

    • vealcutlet

      I’m not sure about that. If you turn something around but still end up facing the same direction what have you done. If you want to go in another direction, 90 degrees is okay, so is 180 and 270. Anything but 360 degrees leads you to somewhere you aren’t already.

  • Guest

    I think my boss might have taken a chemistry class somewhere along the way; about 4 times a year I hear him say that we need to perform a “lipsis test” (instead of litmus test) on a random issue.  He really likes to say it in front of an educated crowd of strangers because it shows that he’s smart.

  • DaBoss

    HILARIOUS!

  • Kelli L

    I read this piece this morning.  Then, later on, I was listening to a podcast.  The woman was talking about a controversial topic at a conference and said, “after he said it, there was an outroar, and people began leaving.”  Outcry / uproar.  Clearly, it was coincidipity ;)