An Almost Complete History of Your Most Hated Office Jargon

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on May 20, 2016 6:58 AM

Sure, lawyers have our in-speak. We talk about obscure rules, using even more obscure Latin phrases, mixed with an alphabet soup of government laws and regulations. But at least we don't talk about "crushing our quarterly goals" and "synergizing" efforts. Well, we don't often. Corporate jargon can slip in to legal practice every once in a while, whether it's from clients or colleagues.

If you've ever wondered where those awful phrases like "ping me" and "wheelhouse" came from, the National Geographic's Mark Strauss has done some sleuthing for you, putting together a condensed etymology of workplace clichés. Here are the highlights.

Let's Table This

"Tabling" something that you want to put off for the moment actually has a legal origin. It's just that we've gotten the phrase all wrong. In British parliamentary procedure, legislation is placed on the speaker's table when it's up for debate. Across the Atlantic, to table something actually means to take it up. But, we've thrown off British rule and our Congress has spent more than a century using "table" the opposite way -- and it's that inverted meaning that's trickled down into everyday office clichés.

Touch Base

To touch base on something means to quickly check in or confer. And it's actually a term taken from baseball, via France. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the final word on all things lexicographical, the first use of "touching base" outside of baseball was by the U.S. Army in France post-WWI.

In Our Wheelhouse

Is workers' comp defense in your wheelhouse? What about bringing in corporate clients? Where is your wheelhouse anyway? When you say something is "in our wheelhouse," you mean you're good at something. But no, it probably doesn't refer to an actual house where you store wheels. The wheelhouse is another name for the bridge of a ship, where the captain pilots the boat along.

Ping

If someone wants you to "ping me when you're done," they're asking for you to send them a quick, electronic message. It could be a text, it could be an email, but it shouldn't involve face-to-face interaction. The term comes from computing, after all, where pinging something means sending a small packet to an Internet address to see if it's accessible.

Synergy

Everyone hates synergy. The word that is, not the synchronistic endeavor that it's supposed to represent. Synergy, Strauss reports, was once a theological term, representing the combination of divine grace and human action. (Also, Synergy was the purple-haired, purple-eyed holographic computer hero on "Jem and the Holograms.") It's since been perverted into one of the worst corporate buzzwords.

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