21 Business Phrases that Should Never Be Used in eLearning (or in Business)


To save you the heartache of using a risque, disrespectful, tactless, or inappropriate phrase in your eLearning, here is a list of phrases that you should avoid altogether. The main lesson to take away from this list is that some phrases are just not appropriate for the workplace. Some are pithy but not if the phrase has to deal with or is anything close to inappropriate. Here are a few to scratch off your list:

1. Open the Kimono

Let’s keep those Kimonos securely tied. This saying requires little imagination and even less professionalism. The term’s origin is disputed and may have even dated back to samurai times when the samurai would disrobe from their armor and show that they no longer held any weapons by opening their outer Kimono to someone that they were negotiating with. Unfortunately, this phrase has many other, not so tasteful, possible origins. Close the Kimono and keep the slippers on - there are other ways to say full disclosure.

Use this instead - Completely Transparent, Revealing Information, Full Disclosure

2. Hook Up

This is a common term used to say, “I need to connect with someone.” Unfortunately, this term also has another not so chaste definition. Be chaste - use an alternative.

Use this instead - Connect, Make a Connection

3. Skin in the Game

Although this term was potentially coined by famed investor Warren Buffett, it will not bring the same ROI as Berkshire Hathaway if used in your eLearning. This phrase refers to a situation in which high-ranking company executives or insiders use their own capital to buy a portion of the company they are managing therefore they have a personal risk and stake in the company. Another potential origin for this phrase is The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare. One of the characters, Antonio, promises a pound of flesh as collateral when he co-signs on Bassanio’s loan from the moneylender Shylock. Gruesome I know. Shylock almost gets away with it too. Regardless of origin this phrase is better-left to 16th Century playwrights.

Use this instead - Heavily Invested or Personally Invested

4. Pump and Dump

This expression comes from an illegal investment scheme to grow companies for the sole purpose of selling it regardless of what corners are cut or how making short term decisions hurt the business long term. Colloquially this term is used to represent a short term bandage-style fix for a big payout. This phrase has an alternate definition which refers to breastfeeding after drinking alcohol. This term will not pump up your learning. Another common version of this phrase is churn and burn.

Use this instead - Artificially Inflated

5. One Throat to Choke

This phrase is used to pontificate that there is only one vendor through which all services or goods are provided. With only “One Throat to Choke” the single vendor or single point of contact must take full responsibility in the event that something goes awry, therefore, one company to blame. Although, it doesn’t seem so, this is often used as a positive sentiment for choosing only one vendor rather than several.

Use this instead - Single Vendor, Full Service Company

6. Getting In Bed with…

This is a phrase that most professionals are still scratching their heads wondering how it wiggled it’s way into everyday business lingo to replace very clear and concise terms such as the two below.

Use this instead - “Work Closely With...” or “Partner With...”

7. Quick and Dirty

An informal phrase to say something is done or produced hastily, or in a makeshift manner. The word dirty can often be taken the wrong way.

Use this instead - Makeshift, Half baked

8. To Be Honest

An incredibly overused adverbial disjunct for the inarticulate person to make a point or try to sell something. This saying is often used in one of the two scenarios. First is the inarticulate used car salesman that wants to sell you something and is really trying to make a point. The second is when the speaker believes there is a need to preface a sentence that may be mildly offensive. The question is — Were you not being honest before? Is there reason to distrust you? Don’t start a tangled web of suspicion by using this phrase. Just discard this saying from your internal dictionary entirely.

Other versions of this term - Truth be Told, In Full Disclosure, Honestly, No Lie, The Truth of the Matter,

Use this instead - To Be Blunt, To Be Frank, To Be Candid, To Get Straight to the Point

9. Come to Jesus Meeting/Moment

A serious meeting with an individual that is often accompanied with a performance review. This term often has an ultimatum accompanying the meeting after the person is confronted about the behavior that is negatively impacting their job performance. This phrase has several reasons why it is offensive, and I have never known anyone to increase their spirituality after leaving this type of meeting. Forbes Magazine listed this one as "The Most Annoying Business Expression On Earth 

Use this instead - Intervention, Straight Talk Meeting, Dramatic Confrontation, Ultimatum

10. Drinking the Kool-Aid

An extremely distasteful reference to the Jonestown Massacre of 1978 that happened when 913 radical cultists committed mass suicide in a compound in South America by drinking grape Koolaid (actually Flavor Aid) laced with Cyanide and other poisons. This saying can easily be replaced without having to use such tactless jargon.

Use this instead - Following Blindly, Robotic Allegiance, Blind Obedience, Without Critical Examination

11. Make Hay

The author John Heyward coined the phrase, “make hay while the sun still shines” in the book Proverbs, Epigrams and Miscellanies of John Heywood. This evolved into the saying “Make Hay.” Meaning be productive while there is sunlight to do it in. This is commonly and unintentionally mistaken for another term about hay.

Use this instead - Produce Results

12. Peel the Onion

This is probably the most self-explanatory saying on the list, but it still brings tears to my eyes each time I hear the overworked phrase. It means to diagnose a problem one layer at a time. The trouble with this phrase is that most onions don’t have a problem inside them - they are still onion layers all the way to the core. Even if the onion was suspected of rotting, I have to ask, Who would take the time to peel an onion layer-by-layer rather than taking a sharp knife to it?

Use this instead - Get to the Heart of the Problem, Get to the Bottom of It, Get to the Root of the Problem, Dig Deeper

13. Agreeance

The 16th century called and they would like their vernacular back. This word has the exact same meaning as agreement. It was created in the 16th Century but has been in disuse since the mid 19th century. This term adds no additional meaning to it’s colloquial brother, agreement, but rather makes the speaker sound quaint at best and more likely pretentious.

Use this instead - Agreement

14. Womb to Tomb

This vivid and slightly morbid saying is supposed to represent a timeline from inception of an idea or project to completion or death. A less descriptive phrase would be more appropriate.

Use this instead - Start to Finish

15. Lipstick on a Pig

You know it’s a pig. The customer knows it’s a pig. Everyone knows it’s a pig. Lipstick or not it is still a pig. Don’t get your eLearning muddy by using this phrase.

Use this instead - Superficial Change, Cosmetic Change

16. Too Many Chiefs and Not Enough Indians

I probably don’t even need to state why you should not use this in your training. If you seriously don’t get it then Google the news about why the Washington Redskins are being sued to change their name.

Use this instead - Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen

17. Literally

This literally is on the list because it is literally overused in literally every situation — literally. The funny thing about this overemphasized word is that most of the time the speaker really means figuratively or metaphorically. For example, I heard this the other day, “That was literally the craziest thing I have ever done. I literally died.” Based on our conversation, I’m quite sure this person was, in fact, quite alive. [For further clarity watch this Captain Literally video on YouTube.]

Use this instead - (Okay, nothing here. Just stop using the word.)

18. Brand Terrorist

Defined as someone that hijacks the logo of a company, and changes it outside the brand standards or style guide. We have enough real terrorism around the world let’s not minimize what is happening by using this phrase.

Use this instead - Brand Polluter

19. Brand Nazi

A Brand Nazi is either someone that has undying loyalty to and will only buy one brand of clothing or the Brand Manager within a company. This person’s job is to maintain the integrity of the logo and brand and make sure brand compliance is adhered to. In certain companies such as Disney, Google and Coke brand management and compliance is more than one persons full-time position.

Use this instead - Brand Champion, Brand Manager, Brand Enforcer, Brand Ambassador

20. Gypped or Jewed

Here is another racial slur that should be annexed from your eLearning and business jargon. This phrase can be easily replaced with myriad terms.

Use this instead - Swindled, Ripped Off, Bamboozled, Hoodwinked, Overcharged

21. Beauty Contest

"Bring in the next firm; I want to wrap up this beauty contest before my 4 o'clock tee off." This phrase is used in a competitive pitching situations and should be avoided at all costs.

Use this instead - Wrap up this session, finish the meeting


Here are some other articles that are good references: