On-the-job jargon

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There seem to be a lot of people complaining about it these days, so maybe there's something to worry about here.  Francois Lang, who called this current wave of criticism to my attention asks whether academia is isolated from such horrors.

FWIW, here's what it's like in business:

"A look at the most annoying workplace jargon and why people are bothered so much"

NPR (September 5, 20235:15 AM ET), Heard on Morning Edition

I'll mention my favorite right off the bat:  "reach out to you".  I don't think it made the NPR list.

A poll by the company Preply asked white-collar workers to weigh in on the words and terms they're most sick of hearing on the job. "Circling back" and "touching base" are two that made the list.


Now we're going to take a deep dive into something that's been on our radar.


Yeah. We at MORNING EDITION just want to circle back to make sure we're on the same page about something. It's a new survey about the most annoying office jargon.

ESTRIN: A recent poll by the company Preply asked white-collar workers to weigh in on the words and terms they are most sick of hearing at work. The No. 1 most annoying term on the survey – drumroll, please – circling back.


ESTRIN: It turns out that people are not fans of coworkers saying touching base or pinging each other.

FADEL: Oh, so, Daniel, I think we might be these annoying coworkers here. But is that going to stop me from using this jargon? No. To unpack why certain workplace jargon can be so irritating, we hopped on a call to ask Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster.

PETER SOKOLOWSKI: When we see terms like fast-paced environment or entrepreneurial spirit or to wear many hats, they become kind of cliches, and they lose their intensity. They lose a little bit of their meaning.

ESTRIN: Sokolowski says words that are supposed to bring clarity can start to sound empty if the boss uses them too much.

SOKOLOWSKI: In English, we value clarity and we value simplicity. And especially when explaining complicated ideas, the words that ring true are the ones that break ideas down.

FADEL: So when language is used to create emotional distance – like calling layoffs a reduction in force – people notice and they get annoyed.

ESTRIN: But Sokolowski says workplace jargon does have its place.

SOKOLOWSKI: Another one that people love to hate is onboarding. But the fact is, of course, onboarding serves a function, and if you step back from it, you can realize that, yes, to, you know, give a quick survey of a new workplace to a new employee – there is a utility to that, and maybe we need a name for that.

FADEL: I mean, we could just call it training. But anyway, people tend to be pretty conservative with their language habits, Sokolowski says. So when we hear new words, they can get under our skin pretty quickly.

SOKOLOWSKI: We all have peeves about language. We all have preferences about language. And typically, because language always changes, we notice those changes, and we almost always hate the changes that we notice.

ESTRIN: But, Leila, you never irritate me with your office jargon, so keep on going.

FADEL: (Laughter) Thanks.

ESTRIN: And a little word from the wise – before you ask a coworker to think outside the box, maybe take your own advice and find another way to say that.

Additional lists of corporate jargon and business clichés here, here, here, and here.

If you want to know scores more examples of business / workplace jargon, see here.  Beyond that is above my paygrade.


Selected readings


  1. Richard Hershberger said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 9:57 am

    My understanding of "onboarding" is not the same as training. It is the entire process of getting a new hire up and running: paperwork with HR, assigning a desk, and so forth. It may have a training element, but that is merely a part of onboarding. And to the extent that onboarding includes training, it is a different sort from the training a longstanding employee might receive. "Onboarding" seems to me an excellent word that concisely names a real thing. My guess is that the complaints are simply because it is a newish word (earliest cite in Merriam Webster 1988) and therefore consciously noticed, without the complainer noticing that it cromulently fills a semantic gap. See also: "proactive," though I don't see complaints about that much anymore.

  2. Francois Lang said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 12:45 pm

    Thank you, Victor, for your impactful synergy in solutioneering this high-level query by leveraging your expertise to curate innovative content of mission-critical deliverables :-)

  3. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 1:00 pm

    @Richard: Re: proactive, I think that's fallen to the wayside as a marketing/business buzzword, and contemporary uses are now actually meaningful.

  4. Nathan said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 1:51 pm

    To me this seems a novel use of the word jargon.
    I think of jargon as specialized vocabulary for things that people outside the field don't need words for.

    These are all seemingly recent coinages, but not very specialized and maybe superfluous.

  5. Taylor, Philip said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 2:56 pm

    Like Victor, "reach out" always makes me want to vomit, but to answer Francois Lang's question ("whether academia is isolated from such horrors"), I am afraid that it is not. It was in 1985 that I returned some copy to my college Principal, in which she wrote of the "binary line". I scribbled "pure jargopn" against the phrase and sent it back for emendation. And my director regular spoke of "remotising" VDUs. And our web manager was very fond of "touching base".

    But for me, there is one aspect of spoken English which has really started to grate of late, and this has nothing whatsoever to do with word/phrase choice or vocabulary. Rather, it is the ever-more-widespread adoption of a major 5th pitch increase of an artificially prolonged word to indicate that it is either the most important aspect of what the speaker has to say, or, more commonly, that it is one of a series of such aspects, all of which are about to be (or have already been) enunciated.

  6. cameron said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 3:00 pm

    "onboarding" is definitely not training, and it doesn't apply only to new hires. a consultant being engaged to work on a project needs access to systems associated with that project. setting up system accounts and granting appropriate access is a process and it needs a name.

  7. Taylor, Philip said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 3:05 pm

    [long list of required steps] "and it needs a name", Agreed. But that name does not need to be a single word.

  8. Brett said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 3:11 pm

    My impression is that, prior to the 1990s, reach out was more of a regionalism—perhaps specific to the New York area.

  9. Philip Anderson said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 3:12 pm

    @Richard Hershberger
    The process you describe is certainly more than training, and I understand the nautical metaphor of bringing someone “on board” to a team or company. However, when this is verbed to become just an HR jargon word, it starts to lose its meaning (becoming a “business process” to be ticked off, rather than its goal), and irritates me.

  10. Daniel Barkalow said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 4:29 pm

    In favor of "onboarding", a friend of mine has been working at a public-sector organization, and says that it doesn't have a concept or term for "onboarding". Instead, people just show up at the office address and try to figure out where they should sit and how to find their bosses, and hopefully they have a boss who thinks of useful things to tell them. The HR business process of "onboarding" as jargon turns out to be very useful for making sure that people who are new to interacting with the organization get the organization-specific information they need, and, while establishing a standard process and jargon for it may lose the personal touch, it's also much more reliable and connects new people with someone with a broader range of information than their own experience.

    Most of the other terms seem to me more like idioms than jargon: they don't mean anything that is industry-specific, but are the way a particular group of people phrases something that everybody everywhere talks about in some way or other ("ask again", "try harder", "adjust to change"). Furthermore, a bunch of them are euphemisms, in that (for example) asking someone again about the thing they couldn't answer before is an annoying-but-necessary thing to do, and people aren't going to like it regardless, but they'd be more unhappy if you said "I'm pestering you about X" or didn't acknowledge that you'd already asked earlier.

    My employer, in 2021, noticed that most people weren't taking any time off and were showing signs of burnout, and they decided to make a whole bunch of days effectively company-wide holidays. Lacking existing terminology for the concept, they decided to call them "wellness days" to capture the fact that they work like holidays, but each of them doesn't have anything in particular it celebrates or commemorates, and that the reason they existed was that we would go away for a day and come back refreshed. Having the term (even devoid of any compositional meaning) meant that people could say "remember that Friday is a wellness day" and others would understand without needing to go through discussing whether it's any particular holiday. This really is an organization-specific concept that benefits from having a term, and so the term is properly "jargon". (Also, everyone likes the term, for the simple reason that they seem to actually make employees both happier and more productive over time, and people like specific terms for things they like.)

  11. Philip Taylor said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 5:11 pm

    "Wellness days". Vomit. They are holidays (as currently understood, not "Holy days"), so why not call them that ? Holidays don't need anything in particular that they celebrate or commemorate — who, if anyone, has the slightest idea why bank holidays are called bank holidays as opposed to (say) "stock exchange holidays" or "building society holidays" or whatever. I can just imagine the reaction of my former colleagues (I have been officially retired since 2008, tho' now hold an honorary research appointment) would have reacted if told that the College was going to introduce "Wellness days" — "Wellness days, what the f*** are they ? If they're going to give us more holidays, then for f***'s sake call them that, not use some ridiculous management jargon that the College has spent £30 000 for consultants to come up with". Vomit over.

  12. Chris Button said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 5:16 pm

    In English, we value clarity and we value simplicity.

    “We” being all speakers of English? And what do speakers of other languages value?

  13. Chris Button said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 5:19 pm

    The one that irritates me is when people say “leverage” when the word “use” would have sufficed.

  14. Joe said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 7:23 pm

    I agree with the commenters who say "onboarding" describes a real thing that deserves a name, and with those who say it includes more than just training, but also with those who say it still seems recent. So I wonder, what did Human Resources call that thing before it was "onboarding"? HR is a famous euphemism treadmill (witness the term itself: "personnel" to "human resources" to possibly "people operations"?) so it wouldn't surprise me to learn there was already a previous name for this concept that was simply replaced, and it would surprise me to learn nobody thought of naming it till a recent decade.

  15. Chips Mackinolty said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 8:08 pm

    The cliched words that make me reach for my revolver is "strategic planning" or (to elevate via capital letters "Strategic Plan"). Many years ago I was hired as "Manager, Strategic Planning". I refused to take the title as its was meaningless, and only in response to government funding which insisted that all organisations had to have a "strategic plan". Heaven help us!

  16. David Morris said,

    September 7, 2023 @ 9:16 pm

    I hope that at the end of my working life I will be offboarded and not unboarded or overboarded (or overboard myself).

  17. Marc said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 12:11 am

    Be sure to read the latest adventures of Action Item, Professional Superhero!


  18. Pedro said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 2:24 am

    These jargon lists are the second most boring thing ever, and also the second most predictable. Only lists of grammatical "mistakes" (such as "between you and I" and "I could care less") are worse.

  19. Peter Taylor said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 3:54 am

    @Philip Taylor, I had an idea. It turns out that it was wrong, and probably a folk etymology, but nevertheless…

    The Act of Parliament which created bank holidays established that

    …the several days… shall be kept as close holidays in all banks… and all bills of exchange and promissory notes which are due and payable on any such bank holiday shall be payable… on the next following day

    So they're bank holidays because of their impact on bank opening and the flow of money.

    The folk etymology that I had heard was that MPs were fed up with their bankers going off to play golf and closing the bank whenever they felt like it, so they restricted the days on which banks could close. The Bank Holidays Act 1871 does read in a way which makes sense if banks were previously assumed to be required to open on all weekdays except Christmas and Good Friday, but it's not explicit on the matter. It certainly doesn't say that banks can't close on other days, but there may be an underlying assumption or previous requirement that they be able to redeem promissory notes on other days.

  20. Philip Anderson said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 4:05 am

    I have no objection to the term ‘wellness’, deliberately coined to contrast with ‘illness’ and emphasising that keeping healthy is more than just dealing with illness. We have wellness activities here, although not wellness days.
    However, I understand that taking holidays is frowned upon in American business culture, and seen as a lack of dedication, so maybe labelling a day off work as a ‘wellness day’ does actually encourage employees to rest, by avoiding the stigma of actually taking a holiday?

    @Cips Mackinolty
    I don’t see a problem with the term ‘strategic planning’ – organisations ought to plan ahead, and the distinction between short-term tactics and long-term strategy is an old one.

  21. Scott Mauldin said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 4:40 am

    Forgive me, but as linguistically knowledgeable people shouldn't we be less annoyed once we realize that these are just natural processes of language change? We may hate "circle back", but "re-discuss" would be "re+ dis+quatere", to "shake apart again", and I'm sure some Roman pleb was sick to death of hearing his patrician emloyer "shake apart" the subject of the latest mercantile venture.

    We may prefer "contact" to "get in touch with", but "contact" was once "com+tangere", literally "to [intensely] touch", and I'm sure that grossed someone out the first time it was used metaphorically for talking with someone.

  22. Andreas Johansson said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 6:20 am

    @Philip Anderson:

    Perhaps unfairly, I dislike "wellness" because I associate it with snake oil salesmen.

    We don't seem to have a word for "onboarding" at my place of work, despite the company having a fairly elaborate (if not always adhered to) process for it. Or maybe the HR people do, but if so it doesn't appear to've caught on with the rest of the workforce.

    An important part of it is teaching the new employee the basics of the multiple layers of industry-, company-, and department-specific jargon they'll be flooded with.

  23. Richard Hershberger said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 6:59 am

    @Scott Mauldin: Indeed, "contact" formerly was a standard bugaboo of usage manuals. We should, we were told, use a more specific term: "call on," "telegraph," "write to," etc. We were not told what word we should use if the specific form was irrelevant, not yet determined, or otherwise unknown. Then usage writers forgot that they were supposed to complain about this, and nowadays the usage is entirely unremarkable.

  24. Andrew Taylor said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 8:05 am

    @Pedro: as someone once said, the only thing worse than people making grammatical mistakes is people complaining about people making grammatical mistakes.

    (Especially when the "grammatical mistakes" are really about spelling, punctuation or word-choice.)

  25. David Morris said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 8:42 am

    A colleague said she'd prefer the term 'induction', so I asked whether that meant 'inducting' or 'inducing' our new staff.

  26. Victor Mair said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 9:07 am

    My university's websites include things like "Penn Healthy You", which make me sick.

  27. George said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 9:09 am

    The only circumstances in which it's permissible to reach out is if you feel that you can't go on and that all of your hope is gone. Otherwise, no.

  28. Wanda said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 10:40 am

    Re: wellness days vs. holiday
    My impression is that when Brits go on vacation, they say they are taking a holiday. Americans don't use the word "holiday" that way. For me, a holiday would be a day when some community of people celebrates or commemorates something. If a student told me, " I can't take the exam on Friday, because it's a holiday for me," I would assume they have some religious or cultural event that conflicts with the exam and would try to accommodate them (in a way I wouldn't if they were just going to Disneyland.) If a company just told everyone to take some random days off, it would feel strange to me to call those days holidays. I don't love "wellness days" either, but it seems to work for that company.
    Re: onboarding, reach out, touch base, circle back. I honestly don't get why people dislike these terms. I understand that people don't like content-free corporate communication, but these phrases have useful meanings!
    I will say I hate "ask" as a noun, as in "The X team has an ask for us."

  29. Philip Taylor said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 11:15 am

    I think that George has summed up perfectly why many of us dislike "reach out" as a verb phrase of convenience — "if you feel that you can't go on and that all of your hope is gone" then you can reach out. If not, you can simply contact / get in touch with / etc. "Touch base" makes sense only if the person using the phrase is a member of a country in which baseball is widely played. "Onboarding" and "circling back" haven't yet made any impression on my stream of consciousness, but I am certain that I would instantly dislike the former; I might dislike the latter, too, once I knew for what simple concept it was being used as a synonym. And may I add "top of the programme", which means nothing more (and nothing less) than "the beginning" [or "start"] of the programme. Programmes neither have tops nor bottoms — they have beginnings and ends.

  30. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 11:44 am

    @ Joe —

    The reason "onboarding" is useful now in the U.S. but is relatively recent, I think, is because hiring has become more complex. I can't remember any formalities from my first summer job when I was employed as a lifeguard at the municipal pool in the late 1960s. I know I was issued a key, and I might have had to sign for it. Maybe I had to stop by the village office and give my social security number? (Now, alas, often referred to as a "social." Blech.)

    These days, the first day of work involves filling out tax forms while presenting proof of identification and sometimes proof of citizenship. Since most payment is now by direct deposit, the employee will have to provide banking information. If the employee has a professional license, this may have to be presented. The day may involve a session introducing various fringe benefits and signup procedures for health insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, 401(k) or other retirement plan information, employee stock investment plans or other savings or investment plans, an employee handbook that may require a signature of acknowledgement, information about holidays and paid time off, parking information (and sometimes issuance of parking stickers or passes), and information about other perks or benefits. If the employee will have access to company vehicles, proof of valid car insurance may be required. If the employee will be traveling or otherwise incurring reimbursable expenses, there will be information about what is eligible for reimbursement and how to obtain it; if the company authorizes a credit card instead, there will also be paperwork for the card. If the employee is issued any keys, there will usually be paperwork to sign. If pay stubs are only online, the employee will have to set up log-ins and passwords to access employer payroll information, to post hours worked, or to see schedules. Employees may be photographed, for posting on the company's website, for other uses (such as internal bulletin boards), or for security badges.

    The employee will be shown where they will work, and may be given information on how the telephone system works (including setting up a secure password for accessing voicemail), how the computer networks work (including setting up log-ins and passwords), and information about custom software, including things like Slack or other chat services. There may be information about computer security, particularly if the worker is assigned a laptop. If social media policies are not covered in the handbook, the information may be included during the computer orientation. If the employee receives a work cellphone or other communication device, there will be instructions and paperwork for that. Part of being shown where to work may also include a tour of the working area, including the HR offices, break rooms, conference rooms, bathrooms, locker rooms (if any), and other locations as relevant.

    Onboarding is not the same as orientation or training. The paperwork after hiring is a lot more complex than it was 50 or 60 years ago.

  31. yandoodan said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 1:04 pm

    @Barbara Phillips Long:

    For contractors, all this and more. Contractors will have a separate method of billing and rules on what can be billed, how to encode it, and caps on amount billed, plus informal (but strict) rules on which projects should get the most billing and which the least. These won't be in an employee orientation handbook, as contractors are not employees.

    Note the last of this list is something that the company wouldn't dare write down but is extremely important anyway. More examples of this are rules on off-site lunch breaks (without clients), dress while visiting clients, and things that could put you in line for a job as an employee. Some of these things, such as the off-site lunch rules, might actually contradict what's in the orientation manual. "Onboarding" pretty much covers it.

  32. Tom said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 1:21 pm

    The INCO terms is jargon; "Sinitic" is jargon; "sui generis" is (EU) jargon; PBSC (political bureau standing committee) is jargon; "feedback" is (cybernetic theory) jargon; "six" is jargon in football for a particular player type and role; semantics, pragmatics, .. and the third one escapes my mind, are jargon.

    "Win-win" is not jargon, it's a euphemism.

    "Hit the ground running", I only know from soldiers leaving helicopters and beach-landing boats. Does it mean, being in training?!

    "Onboarding" — a business school professor explained long and wide, what he meant by "onboarding processes" and he included operational training and rehearsals; I'm sure other businesses and managers have much lower expectations of onboarding. Again, it's not jargon, if anything, it's pretentious. The way ordinary words get abused in marketing departments and political speech, is subject to mockery abroad.

    American soldiers on foreign soil? -> Intervention after an incident. Other soldiers on foreign soil -> Invasion.

    Most words are euphemisms and deflections. A Trump supporter told me this week, the candidate was merely outspoken and therefore got criticized for that.

    Is "outspoken" jargon?

  33. Richard Hershberger said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 1:49 pm

    I am trying to understand how "onboarding" is pretentious. I've got nothing. It is a perfectly standard word well formed from a common English root. This is the opposite of pretentious. Compare this with the alternative, raised upthread, of "induction," with its Latin root.

  34. Richard Hershberger said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 1:51 pm

    '"Touch base" makes sense only if the person using the phrase is a member of a country in which baseball is widely played. "'

    Or if the expression is widely understood even if the underlying metaphor is not: you know, like other metaphors beyond number, to the point where most don't even realize they are a metaphor.

  35. George said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 1:53 pm

    @Philp Taylor

    It was the Four Tops who summed it up perfectly. I was just quoting them!

  36. Philip Taylor said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 1:57 pm

    Again I will respond to only one point — « "Win-win" is not jargon, it's a euphemism ». For what is it a euphemism in your opinion, Tom ? I accept that it is jargon, its universe of discourse being game theory, but I cannot see what ?unpleasant? aspect(s) it is intended to conceal. If one is faced with a number of different possible way to proceed, then seeking one with a win:win outcome is often beneficial (unless, of course, one is predatory or litigious by inclination, in which case such a person would very much prefer a win:lose outcome).

  37. Levantine said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 4:37 pm

    Wanda, in British English too, "I can't take the exam on Friday, because it's a holiday for me" would not be understood as referring to a vacation. The student would have to say "because I'm going on holiday" for it to mean that.

  38. Wanda said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 5:01 pm

    @Levantine: Good to know. I don't like giving make-up exams.
    @Barbara Phillips Long: If you ask a young person for their "social," you are much more likely to get their Instagram handle than their social security number.

    Re: "onboarding": do you people who are bothered by it think there is something wrong with the word itself, or are you bothered by the fact that at many companies, it takes half a day to complete all the necessary procedures to become an official employee?

  39. Philip Anderson said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 6:21 pm

    In my experience, while completing the company forms may take half a day, to actually get “on board” a project takes longer, with setting up tools, file access, multiple accounts etc.
    But what don’t I like about the word “onboarding”, or the verb “onboard”? For me, and I fully accept it’s my personal reaction, it sounds wrong, because on- isn’t a verbal prefix – certainly it makes adjectives (ongoing, online, inside), but I can’t think of another verb beginning with on-, and even for its opposite off- only offload and offset spring to mind.
    And snowboarding isn’t a good parallel.

  40. Michael Watts said,

    September 8, 2023 @ 10:26 pm

    My employer, in 2021, noticed that most people weren't taking any time off and were showing signs of burnout, and they decided to make a whole bunch of days effectively company-wide holidays. Lacking existing terminology for the concept, they decided to call them "wellness days" to capture the fact that they work like holidays, but each of them doesn't have anything in particular it celebrates or commemorates, and that the reason they existed was that we would go away for a day and come back refreshed.

    I don't understand the idea here. That is already the modern understanding of "holidays". They don't have any significance other than the fact that businesses close.

    The holidays that matter, the ones that do have significance, are the same set that people can predict the timing of (except Easter), and they are not defined to occur on "whichever Monday seems closest to the day we originally wanted to honor". In contrast, we have a whole bunch of holidays, called by that name, that are defined to occur on Monday because the only important thing about them is that you get a three-day weekend. Many people don't even know which holiday is being observed when they get Monday off.

  41. Philip Taylor said,

    September 9, 2023 @ 2:36 am

    "do you […] think there is something wrong with the word itself" — yes. We had a perfectly good term for this process long before anyone coined the ugly and execrable "onboarding". A new entrant into an organisation (not "a new hire") was taken through the induction process.

    And (vaguely on-topic) — I know that Fowler wrote "prefer the short word to the long" but would he really have advocated favouring "mayo" over "mayonnaise", or (infinitely worse) "merch" over "merchandise" ?

  42. Dara Connolly said,

    September 9, 2023 @ 10:19 am

    These office workplace expressions don't annoy me in the least. These terms are used because they are useful, not to annoy or obscure.

    For example, as a manager, my duties include onboarding new employees and contractors. The word refers to a set of tasks which I must carry out to enable the new employee to work effectively, including arranging a building induction and access card, the issue of computer equipment, access to computer systems, introducing them to their colleagues, explaining the probation period, agreeing targets and development plan, etc.

    Similarly the offboarding process includes ensuring the return of company equipment, access cards, etc., ensuring their timesheets and expenses are up to date, informing IT of their end date, scheduling an exit interview, etc.

    I would also argue that "reach out" is not the same as "contact". I don't "reach out" to my manager or my direct reports, nor they to me. I "reach out" to someone I would not normally be in contact with (e.g. in a different part of the organisation), when I have a need and I have identified a person who may be able to help.

  43. Tom said,

    September 9, 2023 @ 10:29 am

    @ Richard Hershberger

    In my ears, onboarding sounds like boarding a cruiseliner … and that's something special.

    (I'm middle-class enough, to notice a difference.)

    If it's registration, though, please say registration. If it's check-in at the airport, hence it's not about getting on board, then it's probably about luggage and it's check-in.

    IT staff don't call registrations "onboarding", it's called "creating a new user", "admin" for short, "sign up" on websites. Issuing IDs, physical equipment, and such … but leaving out tutorials, training etc., isn't so much about the human getting prepared, but about getting machines prepared for the new human. It's very mundane, done by administrative support staff—not by cabin attendants (stewards).

    I was IT staff and would consider a marathon of registrations over a day as utmost unpleasant and any upscale word for that sounds pretentious. Yet, I'm born and raised in Germany, so … a day of registrations is rather quick.

    Registration, … onboarding: onboar-stration?

    @ Phil Taylor

    I associate situations in which people who promise "win-wins" with the phrase "if it sounds too good to be true, …".

    Nevertheless, you're right.

    Say, you like the tuna on pizzas and I don't (for allergy), the good way to cut the pizza would be to either give you the entire pizza, or give you just all the tuna. "Win-win". The underlying assumption is mutual trust and the prospect there will be another pizza to share in the future. "Win-win" among friends, partners, in the family, might have real winners.

  44. Rodger C said,

    September 9, 2023 @ 11:56 am

    Tom, "hit the ground running" is indeed a metaphor derived "from soldiers leaving helicopters and beach-landing boats." It means "get up to speed immediately upon starting the operation."

  45. Philip Anderson said,

    September 9, 2023 @ 5:02 pm

    @Dara Connolly
    The terms are no doubt useful to you “as a manager”, for whom onboarding is a regular activity, but nonetheless they could still irritate ordinary employees (non-managers); that’s pretty much what jargon is.

  46. Philip Taylor said,

    September 10, 2023 @ 2:09 am

    That was exactly my reaction, fellow Philip, but I decided aginst going public. However, now that you have done so, I concur.

  47. Nathan said,

    September 10, 2023 @ 2:58 pm

    I think Philip Anderson has really got something here. A lot of the irritation comes when management uses their weird neologisms with ordinary employees.

  48. Bloix said,

    September 10, 2023 @ 4:19 pm

    Taylor, Philip:
    "Reach out" is useful in the modern era. It encompasses contacting in person, making a phone call, sending a DM, texting, or even mailing a letter. When I started out in the office world, people used to say, "I'll give her a ring." That expression is hopelessly obsolete. I don't see how anyone who's worked in a business context over the past two or three decades could have a problem with "reach out" as a useful replacement.

    Philip Taylor: And the same for "touch base" and "circle back."

    Tom, Roger C. – "hit the ground running" is at least a half-century older than soldiers jumping from helicopters and landing craft. The earliest examples I can find are from the 1880's and are found in threats or brags about one man punching another man so hard that he "hit the ground running" – ie that he was knocked down and ran away.

    The expression took on broader meanings within a few years. For example, an 1895 issue of the sportsman's magazine, Forest and Stream, tells the story of a fox hunt in which the fox is lying apparently dead on the ground. A member of the hunt picks it up and tosses it to the hounds, which will tear it to pieces. "No sooner, however, had the fox left his hands, than he came to life like a flash, and absolutely 'hit the ground running.' The hounds were as much taken by surprise as ourselves…" The use of quotes around 'hit the ground running' tells us that this was a known expression by 1895. Foxes will play dead to escape from predators, human or otherwise, and it's a short jump from a man punched down and running away to a fox playing dead and then running away.

    Tom and Philip Taylor: Win-win is not a euphemism. It's the opposite of zero-sum, and it's a game theory term. In some contexts it may be jargon, but it has a legitimate meaning. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Win%E2%80%93win_game

    It's true that a con man will always claim in essence that the con is a "win-win," but it's also true that any honest and fair contract or business deal is at least intended to be a win-win. No special relationship of trust or of altruism is required. E.g., I have a well-running car that I don't need. You and I agree that you, a stranger, will buy it for a fair market price. I transfer title to you, and you pay with a cashier's check. We never see each other again. We are both better off than we were before. It's a win-win. Most transactions are intended to be win-win. A transaction intended by one party but not the other to be win-win is a fraud. A transaction intended by both parties to be "non-win-win" (zero-sum) is gambling.

    PS to Philip Taylor: You and I jousted over truncated words a couple of years ago.

  49. Tom said,

    September 11, 2023 @ 8:39 am

    @ Bloix
    Excellent research about the fox and the mob, in all three cases — fox, men, and in deployment of soldiers — they run for cover. I would therefore restrict the use to emergencies, escapes and crisis response. It's very specific, not vague. However, it's not used that way, it's inappropriately used, maybe misunderstood, certainly vague.

    About zero-sums, opposites of: it's easy to confuse A and B.

    A) the payoffs and descriptions of a single outcome (win-win) in games, like stalemate, draw, "win-win", "win-lose",

    B) the overall game-point structures in various game models, of which there are categories like zero-sums, non-zero sums, cooperative, non-cooperative, dynamic, repeated, one-shot, two-players, three-players, n-players, with and without lotteries, and auctions.

    I might be mistaken, my dozen game theory books and recorded lectures don't mention "win-wins", the thinkers basically never write that term. "Win-win" is not academese.

    It's pop-science journalese, intended for general audiences. It's not jargon. Moreover, you can play "social games", like tic-tac-toe, tennis, and rock, paper, scissors that are zero-sum games. The stock market transactions are zero-sums, the basis for double-entry accounting are zero-sums. Zero-sums don't mean fraud.
    I do think, the readers appear to confuse street-smart words like "win-win" and "win-lose", fraud, honesty, friend and foe with book-smart jargon like "zero-sums". It's nobody's fault or cause for Maoist denunciations, yet pragmatics tell me: I'm with the book definitions and conventional academic use—and would consider any usage outside that as street-smart euphemism and salesmanship.

    The word "win-win" on the streets is meant to be the opposite of "rip-off" and "fraud", but "win-win" isn't the opposite of "zero-sums" and "zero-sums" don't mean "rip-off" nor "fraud."

    Tic-tac-toe is a not fraud and playing tic-tac-toe is generally enjoyed, hence a "win-win".

  50. Philip Anderson said,

    September 11, 2023 @ 1:45 pm

    Jargon is inevitable, and useful, within groups of specialists or subgroups; the problem comes when it’s used to other people. Sometimes this comes from experts using technical terms to lay people, but at other times it’s managers talking to employees (often experts in their own field), and it comes over as pretentious.
    As with all language change, some words and phrases catch on, and become unremarkable (except by those resistant to any change), others become clichés, many get superseded by new buzz words. In the UK, there’s the additional factor that most of these terms originate in the US, and so get labelled as Americanisms; even ordinary American phrases stand out in a transnational company – “town hall meeting” is not a British idiom.
    But people’s reactions to the common phrases are idiosyncratic, depending on experience, age, nationality, and not static. And unlike grammar and spelling, there are no recognised reference sources.
    Of the phrases you mention:
    Touch base is fine for me in the office, less so socially; but I wouldn’t have connected it with baseball – I would have guessed a field unit reporting back to base.
    Circle back – I’d never met this before (UK).
    Reach out – fine for making an effort to contact or involve people, but for just an email or phone call, I think that’s a US usage, and OTT in my very personal opinion :-)

  51. Philip Anderson said,

    September 11, 2023 @ 2:49 pm

    “Hit the ground running” is just a metaphor in the world of work, a pretty clear one (someone can contribute from the start, not just after training up), and the exact origin doesn’t matter.
    “Win-win” isn’t an academic games theory term, but there are many types of language in addition to the academic and the street smart;. A win-win situation won’t be zero-sun, but the gains may well be quite different, and impossible to measure on a common scale; its opposite could be win-lose or even lose-lose (MAD) – rip-off and fraud only relate to the hidden unfairness of the situation.

  52. James Britt said,

    September 11, 2023 @ 4:06 pm

    I am wondering if the use of "unpack" at the start by Fadel was meant to be ironic.

  53. Philip Taylor said,

    September 11, 2023 @ 4:23 pm

    Bloix — « "Reach out" is useful in the modern era. It encompasses contacting in person, making a phone call, sending a DM, texting, or even mailing a letter. When I started out in the office world, people used to say, "I'll give her a ring." That expression is hopelessly obsolete. I don't see how anyone who's worked in a business context over the past two or three decades could have a problem with "reach out" as a useful replacement. ».

    Well, I’ve not “worked in a business context” within your time span, but I have worked in academia, and today's almost ubiquitous “reach out” just makes me want to vomit. One “reaches out” (or should reach out) only in extremis — at all other times, one simply gets in touch with, contacts, etc. Both of these long-established idioms (and others of their ilk) encompass "contacting in person", "making a ’phone call", sending a text message or posting a letter (I have no idea what "sending a DM is").

    Philip Taylor: And the same for "touch base" and "circle back."

    I also have no idea what "circle back" means, other than in a literal sense ("the war party circled back until they were behind their intended victims), nor has anyone ever used it to me, but "touch base" just makes me cringe. If only Fowler were alive today …

  54. Tom said,

    September 11, 2023 @ 6:42 pm

    The reason why jargon is useful, it's because there is a shared and educated understanding what the terms imply and don't imply. Technicians and scientists don't have to reach out for the dictionaries, thus are very efficient, because of the jargon.

    As the back and forth (not circle back) about "win-win" clearly demonstrate, there is virtually no common understanding or knowledge what that means — and zero will for "onboarding," "a win-win situation won’t be zero-sum" gives away, the writer doesn't "hit the ground running." For example, the pregnancy of a woman requires per day between 450 kcal to 600 kcal additional calories for the baby to grow (during late stage pregnancy), commonly referred to as "she eats for two". These calories are not just reserved for the baby but the baby will consume it. The calories are sucked into the baby in a zero-sum fashion, no regrets and no returns. Biology and non-mathematical sensibily aka common sense have a very simple verdict: it's a win-win for the baby and mom, if the mom loses 100% of the calories and the baby gets 100% of the calories (100-100 = 0). It's a zero-sum and a "win-win".

    Feel free to reach out any online video course about the matter during the wellness days, it might be a win-win, and not a zero-sum … don't miss to circle back, though, it's not as straightforward as onboarding.

  55. Jon W said,

    September 15, 2023 @ 3:35 pm

    I'm struck by the amount of pure language peevery in this thread. It's one thing to have idiosyncratic negative reactions to certain words or phrases, but another to announce that anyone who doesn't share those reactions is engaging in incorrect usage. Philip T, *why* do you believe that "reach out" is only appropriate if one is in extremis? Because the Four Tops once used it in a song in that context? Is that limitation otherwise supported by historical usage? It can't be that "reach out" is incorrect because one could use other words or phrases in its place; that would condemn most words or phrases we use. And at least in the U.S., it's not about recency: AT&T began using its "reach out and touch someone" slogan in the 1970s. Call me puzzled.

  56. Philip Taylor said,

    September 17, 2023 @ 3:23 am

    “ Philip T, *why* do you believe that "reach out" is only appropriate if one is in extremis? ” — simply because, in my experience, that is the primary way in which the phrase was used metaphorically until very recently. Now it is used as a totally unnecessary (and nauseating) substitute for "get in touch with", a usage which I loathe and deplore.

    Clearly we all react differently to changes in usage, and I am undoubtedly more conservative than many; perhaps you (Jon) are a willing adopter of linguistic change — I, on the other hand, am far more resistant, preferring to use the language idioms on which I was raised, and adopting new ones only when they fill a genuine need rather than being nothing more than a passing fad.

    I can honestly say that I have never once felt any need to "touch base" with anybody, have "reached out" only once in my life (when I was in true distress, and even then I did not use the phrase), and feel no desire whatsoever to use Google (or similar) to find out what a "DM" or a "PoMo" is — there are some things in life (many things, in fact) that I just do not need to know, they almost certainly being totally peripheral to my existence.

  57. Graeme said,

    October 11, 2023 @ 1:09 am

    Very late to this. Onboarding is fine as HRM jargon.
    As people say here, to capture a process of registering a new employee that is more administrative than just initial training.

    What grates is it being used in a dehumanising way, with the new colleague, to describe the induction or training element. Doubly so when that element increasingly is a bunch of online modules rather than a hand held encounter.

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