I recently celebrated my two-year anniversary here at saratoga living, which also means I’ve been working in a bustling, public, office environment now for equally as long. The year before I started here, I was working out of my home office in Troy, NY, with only my “red-headed assistant,” my hound dog Esopus, to keep me company during the day, and the low whir of the refrigerator to “answer” me when I flew off the handle. Those were much simpler days, though I did have to Slack my editor in New York City regularly, and sometimes even talk to him on the phone. Most of the time, though, it was just my laptop and me.
Now that I’m back working in an office, keeping somewhat Dolly Parton-esque hours—and somewhat ironically, working in an enclosed office within the greater office space—I’ve had to transform the way I conduct business on a day-to-day basis. Instead of being this hermetic loose cannon, I have to actually interact, in-person, with my coworkers and boss. In the beginning, it was a major culture shock, but I’ve slowly fallen back into the routine.
And while I’m no longer owner of a lonely workday, many of my original pet peeves that cropped up while working in offices throughout my 20s and 30s have reared their ugly heads. The majority of these annoyances are in the way people, within my business sphere, abuse the English language. So, in the same vein as my list of words and phrases only Upstate New Yorkers use and in no particular order, here’s the most comprehensive list of the most annoying words and phrases utilized* in the average Upstate New York office.
*utilize(d): I had an English professor in college who’d literally deduct points from papers that used the verb “utilize.” For me, it’s one of those words people use to make themselves sound smarter than they actually are. If you do use “utilize,” use it sparingly. As in, once a year. And if you turn in a story to me at saratoga living or saratogaliving.com that includes that verb, it will not appear in the published version.
“I don’t have the bandwidth to do X”: This phrase is code for “I’m lazy.” Sure, there may be times during the work week—maybe on deadline, say—when you can’t take on a bigger project and you have to set it aside until further notice. But rare is the office where I’ve ever worked where I’ve been able to tell a direct report that I just don’t have the ability to do what they asked me to do. That’s the whole point of work: It’s an endless slog. Get over your computer-term-referencing self. Note: Close cousin “This is not in my wheelhouse” is an equally mind-boggling phrase. You’re outright telling your direct report that you don’t know how to do your job properly. Plus, you’ll never learn how to do it if you don’t step out of your comfort zone and try it. Trial by fire, I say.
“Per my last email…”: When did email inboxes become cesspools of passive-aggressiveness and poor English? It makes me want to tear my hair out even thinking about them. And this little nugget—”Per my last email,” which can also be disguised as “FYI” or “BTW,” is the big kahuna of passive-aggressive prepositional phrases. The assumption is that you didn’t read the person’s previous email and that you need to smarten up and do it before you read the current one. Option: Next time, drop by your coworker’s office and tell them, in person, what you need. It’s this thing called “human interaction” that humans do.
“Thank you in advance”: If you were paying attention, I used this horrible phrase in the subheadline of this story. You may wonder why. I distinctly remember writing a news story a few years ago about a study that concluded the following: writing “thank you in advance” as a sign-off in emails was the best way to ensure the message would be responded to promptly. Since then, I’ve fallen into the habit of using that sign-off on nearly every email I’ve sent on deadline, attempting to will my sources into sending me information with haste. My guess is it doesn’t really matter. But thank you in advance for thinking it does.
“I’ll look into that”: No…no, you won’t. You’ll never look into it. It will never be found. It will die the ugly death that stuff that doesn’t get looked into dies. And you know it.
“Can I pick your brain?”: Brains aren’t meant to be picked. Noses aren’t either.
“Let’s take this offline”: In the same vein as the “bandwidth” phrase, this one was no doubt invented by some office drone, marinating all day in the sick, blue light of his or her PC screen, who thought that an internet term should be used in plain English. Sorry, nerd; your office isn’t a Jim Cameron movie. Leave it alone.
“Circle back” – What, are you flying a bleepin’ biplane or something? Beware of this one’s equally annoying alternative, “Let’s circle the wagons.”
“Monetize” – An old colleague of mine tipped me off to this gem. Ever since us digital editors started trying to make advertising dollars on our websites, we started using garbage terms like this one. They’ve seeped into print ad sales as well. Hell, you could monetize your dog if you wanted to. I don’t know how, but now I’m wringing my hands like an evil CEO and trying to figure out how much money I can make from my “red-headed assistant.” Look out for the equally virulent “incentivize,” which some human resources professional probably invented.
“Quick question…” – Anytime you see this phrase in a text or an email, know that the question’s neither going to be quick, nor likely even be a question in the first place. I use it all the time. I can attest.
“Where are you based?” – In Timbuktu, NY. Never use this in an email, or that’s where I’ll tell you I’m from. The tipoff might be the “555” in the middle of my phone number, too.
“Ping me” – By definition, a “ping” is a short, high-pitched ringing sound. Why would you want to do that to anyone?
“Let’s table this until next time” – Using “table” as a verb is the grammatical equivalent, in my mind, of using “summer” as a verb. As in, “Jenny summered this year in Nantucket.” Can you hear me dry heaving?
Using “buddy” to refer to someone you don’t know in a professional environment – If we haven’t broken bread together or enjoyed each other’s company (no pun intended), you’re not my buddy. You’re my coworker or someone I’m transacting business with. So listen here, buddy; we’re not buddies.
Did we miss any good ones? Leave them in the comments on our Facebook page.