20 Workplace and Real-Life Cliches Defined
Make a note, send yourself a memo: This is the real deal
By Ed Goldman
All of us use cliches in our work. They save time. But what do they mean? What follows is a helpful guide of my top 20.
1. “I’ll circle back to you.”
That circle, unfortunately, will be the approximate circumference of Jupiter. Which means if we live to be very, very old—or if reincarnation actually works—that’s when I’ll get back to you.
2. “You’re in my thoughts and prayers.”
In fact, your recent illness or loss isn’t even in my small talk. Not even when the subject of your health or tragedy comes up. I suppose if some friends and I were discussing things we really don’t think much about, you might be mentioned. But why mention things one doesn’t much think about? I’m sure you can sense our conundrum.
3. “I’m right there with you.”
I’m not even in the same block. Get real. Your observations are so trite they make statements like “It gets dark when the sun goes down” seem mind blowing. To recap, I’d probably retire, change careers or relocate if I ever felt, for even a moment, that I was right anywhere with you.
4. “I feel your pain.”
This would be true only if when you fell off a building you landed on part of me. And even then, I’d be feeling my own pain—and calling my lawyer.
5. “Just blue-skying” or “spitballing.”
In short, you’re completely clueless but you read somewhere that suggesting completely irrelevant things when people are diligently trying to solve a problem somehow marks you as part of the Creative Sector. Dream on, schnook. You couldn’t even draw a blue sky or form a spitball if you’re life depended on it.
6. “I’m okay—for a Tuesday.”
This is equally ineffective if you end the declaration with any other day if the traditional work week except Friday. Because on Friday it’s apparently a crime against nature to NOT be okay.
7. “Let me sleep on it.”
Let’s face it, pal, you could sleep on a Cray computer, a bed of harvested gray matter or Albert Einstein’s cadaver and still not come up with a better idea than I just did. So just say, “Great idea,” shut your pie hole and go sleep on a beach in Maracaibo.
8. “I haven’t monitored that particular fact path.”
This throwback to the 1970s means roughly the same as “I have no idea what you’re talking about” or, closer to the mark, “The cat ate my homework.”
9. “I feel you.”
While it means you’re sympathetic or empathetic, in the ”Me, Too” era, it’s just ‘way pathetic.
10. “It is what it is.”
Of course it is. It also was what it was. But is it what it will be? And what will be “will be”? Que sera, Syrah?
11. “Be sure to reach out to (whomever)”
Well, that’s one way to feel you.
12. “Are we on the same page?”
Only if we’re both reading a book called “We Are Sooo Stupid.”
13. “We should do some pre-planning.”
This means we should get together to plan how we’re going to plan our plans.
14. “I have some issues.”
If the speaker pronounces it “ISSyews,” you may be in for a long evening. If he or she says it correctly, it could mean he or she collects magazines—and you could also be in for a long evening.
15. “It’s a win-win.”
Assuming no one has any ISSyews, of course.
16. “Outside the box.”
If it defines creative thinking, okay. If it defines my cat’s occasional biological detours, that’s not exactly a win-win.
17. “Let’s take it to the next level.”
In a relationship, this could mean co-habitation, marriage or assuming an especially agile romantic position. In business, it could mean doing a deal memo, signing a contract or assuming an especially agile romantic position.
18. “Go for the low-hanging fruit.”
Naturally, this instructs you to be as lazy as possible. You could pick low-hanging fruit from your desk chair—particularly if the pandemic had you working in your backyard and pretending you’d been transferred to your company’s Fiji offices. But since you work in the risk management division of Roto Rooter, this scenario might not work for you. As a bonus tip: The low-hanging fruit is usually sour.
19. “Push the envelope.”
Pushing an envelope, unless it’s filled with rebar, is a little like playing billiards with a cue made of rope. I can see why if someone’s able to actually push an envelope—up a hill, say—and its only contents were a $5 bill and an anniversary card inscribed, “Enjoy!”, this could be quite an accomplishment, possibly worthy of a framed employee-of-the-month certificate of merit.
20. “The new normal.”
This is what’s called an oxymoron (which is what I also call a certain saloon bouncer but never to his face). If something’s “normal,” it’s not new. It’s a norm. It’s been here for a while. If people proclaim something “the new normal,” ask to see their crystal ball, because chances are, it won’t be normal even a year from now. Nor will it still be outside the box, a win-win or low-hanging fruit—not even if it involved a good deal of pre-planning.