Ask SCORE: Having fun with business jargon


Question: I'm pretty new to business, and it seems like there are lots of words and phrases I don't get. What are some examples of unusual business sayings and terms?

Answer: Yes, the business world has a second language, loaded with techno-speak and accounting terms. And then there is a third layer, with thousands of creative and interesting "insider" business terms which may be new to you. Let's have a little fun today and talk about this.

Here are 25 examples from this parallel vocabulary of amusing business terms and phrases. While some are light and humorous, many are critical. Some are new, and some have been around a while. Suggestion: mention a few at a staff meeting, and have people guess and discuss what they mean. Here we go:

Chair plug. A person who attends meetings, but seldom contributes any comments or ideas of value.

In a gadget trance. Someone just got a new tech device, and can't take their eyes and hands off it.

Big hat, no cattle. Refers to someone who talks a good line, but doesn't really have much money or produce many workable ideas.

Rank and yank. This is a management technique (from Jack Welch at GE) in which all employees are evaluated on performance, and the lowest-rated are fired. Also called "groom and broom."

Seagull manager. The term became popular through a joke in Ken Blanchard's book Leadership and the One Minute Manager: "Seagull managers fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, then fly out," leaving others to clean up the mess.

Greenwashing. This derogatory term merges the concepts of "green" (environmentally sound), and "whitewashing" (to gloss over wrongdoing).

Low-drag employee. A new hire with few ties: no spouse, no children and mobile.

Blamestorming. Having a group discussion of why a deadline was missed or a project failed. It usually ends with identification and blame for who was responsible.

WOMBAT. This harsh evaluation is an acronym for "waste of money, brains and talent."

Chipmunking. Picture someone in a meeting hunched over and madly texting on a smartphone or other device. Similar: thumb jockey.

Screwdriver shop. A dismissive term for a business or department that doesn't really add much value to its products; just assembles a few parts and sends them out.

Mind the KPIs. This refers to the company's Key Performance Indicators. Examples include sales volume, client counts, or other important tracking data. These are also called "metrics."

I paid some tuition on that. A slang reference to how someone lost money on a deal, but learned a valuable lesson that made it worthwhile.

Foam the runway. This means a dire situation was averted at the very last moment. For example, an investor came in with a cash infusion just before bankruptcy.

Burn rate. A startup business will eat into its initial capital until it becomes cash-flow positive. The amount of cash consumed (usually monthly) is called the burn rate.

Deadfish, Idaho. This fictional town is used as a marketing destination. "That's a good ad campaign idea, but how will you sell it in Deadfish, Idaho?"

Clicks and mortar. A bricks and mortar (physical) retail store with a very strong website presence.

Mouse milking. This term derides a task or project which is theoretically possible, but would require a great deal of effort and likely not yield much in return.

Al desco. Describes any meal eaten at a desk.

Chartjunk. Excessive visual material, for example in a PowerPoint slide, that doesn't add any information or value to the graphic.

From the helicopter view. Suggests that the speaker has a big-picture approach to the issue at hand.

Stress puppy. A co-worker who thrives on being stressed-out and whiny.

A one-banana task. This refers to a problem or duty that's so simple a chimpanzee could take care of it. If slightly more difficult, it's a two-banana task.

Sticky bottom. This describes a company where it's difficult to advance above the entry level.

Pity party. Also called a pink slip party, where recently or soon-to-be laid-off employees meet and commiserate about their situation.

These phrases might give you a feel for how creative people in the business world deal with their situations and co-workers. For hundreds more, Google "business jargon" and see what looks interesting.


SCORE's one-day workshop "Starting or Managing Your Own Business" is for people considering going into business.

It will be held at Whatcom Community College from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct.13. This class brings together local experts in several important aspects of business: banking, taxes and recordkeeping, business law, market research, and insurance.

The cost is $89. For more information or to sign up, go online to


To learn more about managing cash flow, and other small business matters, contact SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business." SCORE is a nonprofit nationwide organization with more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and low-cost training workshops to small business owners. Call the local SCORE chapter at 360-685-4259 to schedule an appointment. For details about the organization,visit

Ask SCORE is prepared for The Bellingham Herald by Bob Dahms, a business counselor with the Bellingham chapter of SCORE. Submit questions for this column to

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