Watch your language part 2

A field guide to business jargon and buzzwords

A field guide to business jargon and buzzwords

The corporate world often seems to have its own dialect that only the people who use it really understand. Or do they? Here we attempt to decode three popular business terms.


1. boot•strapping [from bootstrap: a loop at the back of the boot used to pull it on]

“Stop chasing venture capital and start bootstrapping,” (, Feb. 18, 2016)

Can you actually pull yourself up by your bootstraps? No–and the absurdity of the task is what the phrase meant in the 19th century. Since then, “bootstrapping” has been hoisted into the lexicons of law, finance, statistics and software development, given particular shades of “getting ahead using what you already have.” Nobody bootstraps better than the entrepreneur, who slaves away on a brilliant idea, using change from the couch to buy Mr. Noodles, until the moment when the market finally gets it. Difficult? Very. Impossible? No.


2. si•lo [from siros: corn pit]

“Silos stifle communication and prevent teams from working together” (Forbes, Jan. 22, 2016)

A silo can be used to keep grain or ballistic missiles–and, since 1988, information. That is when a U.S. organizational development consultant, Phil Ensor, coined the phrase “functional silo syndrome” to describe hierarchical organizational structures in the manufacturing industry. He wrote: “Communication is heavily top-down–on the vertical axis. Little is shared on the horizontal axis, partly because each function develops its own special language and set of buzzwords.” Unlike many business buzzwords, silo has been adopted by IT instead of the other way around, to describe systems or departments that do not interact with others.


3. blue-sky

“…this may be the one time where a fanciful, no-idea-too-dumb, blue-sky concept process is warranted” (Globe and Mail, March 11, 2016)

The phrase “blue sky” has been around since the early 20th century when it was used to describe worthless securities, referred to in a 1917 U.S. Supreme Court decision as “speculative schemes which have no more basis than so many feet of ‘blue sky.'” Now Oxford defines blue sky as “having no value” (when describing a security) or “not practical; unrealistic”–much like “pie in the sky.” Blue-sky thinking, then, is airy speculation that goes beyond brainstorming or thinking outside the box–and may go nowhere at all.