A survival guide to office jargon

“Can you action that ASAP? We desperately need to hit our KPIs this fiscal quarter and we’ve worked through all the low-hanging fruit already.”


As if starting a new job or entering the world of work isn’t daunting enough, sometimes it can feel as if you’ve gone to a foreign country, with everyone speaking a different language.

After reading this, you’ll have all the tools you need to translate office-speak.

We’ve got you though: here’s our survival guide to office jargon.


When you start working, you’ll come across a LOT of acronyms and one of the most commonly used is KPI. It stands for ‘key performance indicator’ - a KPI is a measure which shows if you and the company are doing a good job.

So, for example, if you’re working in a bakery, one of the KPIs your boss sets might be that you sell 100 loaves of bread per week. If you sell that many, or exceed that amount, this indicates you’re doing a good job. If you don’t reach that number, then adjustments may need to be made to improve your or the businesses’ performance.

We know what you’re thinking - yes, it would be a lot easier if everyone just said ‘target’ instead.

Close/end of play

If someone says ‘do this by the end of play’ it means they want it done by the end of the day.

This is the New York Stock Exchange, where financial markets are tracked and stocks are traded.

Some people think this phrase came into use because sports such as cricket or tennis use it to describe the end of a day of matches.

Others think it comes from the stock market, where it means the closing of stock trading.


We told you there would be lots of acronyms.

This one simply means ‘as soon as possible’ and as you might expect, it is used when someone wants something done very quickly.

It can be pronounced ay-sap or ah-sap.

To ‘action’ something

This one sounds much more exciting than it actually is: it just means to do something. You’d think people would just say that.

The term is commonly used at the end of meetings, when people are assigned things to do after a lengthy discussion.

So for example, if you were an office manager and you were in a meeting where saving money was discussed, someone might say to you: “so we’ve decided we need to reduce the amount of pens we buy - can you please action that?”

To ‘park’ something

Like your car, if you park something it means you’re bringing it to a halt.

If someone asks you to ‘park’ something at work, you’re being asked to stop doing a task in favour of something else, or pause a project that perhaps isn’t working.


Synergy, whilst sounding like a completely made up word, actually comes from the Ancient Greek word synergos, meaning ”working together”.

Simply put, it means a number of things coming together and working in unison. The intention is that this will lead to better results than lots of things or teams working side-by-side in isolation and not communicating.

So… teamwork then. Maybe we should go back to using Ancient Greek after all.

Look at all these parked projects.

Fiscal quarter

This one’s for the aspiring finance moguls. The quarter part is easy enough to understand - it refers to three months of the year, or a quarter of it. So far, so simple.

The fiscal part refers to finance. A financial or fiscal year is the twelve month period in which a company organises its finances. So, budgets, or the money spent on certain things, will usually be approved up until the end of the financial year and then redone for the next twelve months.

The annoying thing is that unlike a regular year, the financial year doesn’t necessarily run from January to December. The British Government starts the financial year on the 5th April and quite a lot of organisations follow suit, but not all.

Low-hanging fruit

Low-hanging fruit has a lot do with the effort you want to put into a project.

No, this doesn’t refer to a kooky snack situation in the office kitchen. Low-hanging fruit means targets that are easily achievable.

For example, if you work in a shop and you need to increase the amount of customers, there will be a number of different ways that you can achieve this. These might include increasing your social media following, putting up more posters around town and getting an advert on your local radio station.

Putting up posters might be considered ‘low-hanging fruit’, as this can be done more quickly and easily than building a popular social media channel or commissioning an advert.


Like a carrot in front of a donkey, sometimes people need a bit of an incentive. The word incentivise means to give someone a reason to do something.

This doesn’t always have to be a treat though - bad sales might incentivise the management of a company to make some changes to their strategy.

Think outside the box

This phrase came into use because of something called the nine dot puzzle. Nine dots are drawn in the middle of a sheet of paper and the challenge is to draw four straight lines which go through the middle of all of the nine dots without taking the pencil off the paper. The answer to the puzzle (spoiler alert) requires you to draw outside of the box, which you may not immediately think to do, hence the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’.

So, how is it used in a workplace? Your employer or manager might want you to think of new creative ideas or strategies for work and task you with ‘thinking outside the box’ - it means they don’t want you to stop at the first idea that comes into your heads but think of alternative, lateral or creative ideas.

What are your least favourite (or even favourite) pieces of office jargon? Let us know by tweeting @bbcbitesize

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