The first annual Squirmy awards

Everyone’s seen them: sentences, phrases or whole publications so awful they literally made you squirm. In honor of appalling writing–and the people who make it happen–I’ve created this sure-to-be-coveted annual trophy. Early submissions include:

“Out to the yard, where fantasy awaits.” (Residential real estate listing, presumably for a brothel)

“Our work will give you a piece of mind.” (Masonry company brochure)

Bring on the nominations!

Circle the wagons and bark like a dog

It’s been an amazing week for office-speak. Between the hallway, the elevator, the conference room and the copy center, I heard the following:

“I’m in concert with the sales team.”
“Let’s cascade this memo.”
“It pleasures me to inform you….”
“Please govern yourself accordingly.”
“I need to give you a dump.”

And my favorite:
“Ping Doris and make sure it’s on her radar.”

In case your ears aren’t bleeding yet, here are a few more: action items, metrics, laser focus, tickler list, in the weeds. Aren’t you glad it’s Friday?

6 professional ways to say “This sucks”

How do you tell your colleagues or subordinates their work isn’t up to par? I just sat through an incredibly painful review of a branding document that had been 18 months in the making. As the team made its presentation, the faces of the review board went from enthusiastic to concerned to horrified. Here’s what they said:

  1. It looks like management didn’t communicate some important points to your team.
  2. You may be a little too close to the project.
  3. We need an outside perspective.
  4. I was envisioning something more along the lines of competitor x.
  5. I don’t think this will get us the results we’re looking for.
  6. We’re not quite there yet.

What would you say?

The Idiom’s Guide

An idiom is a group of words which, taken together, have a figurative meaning. The English language contains thousands of them, and they drive foreign speakers to despair: “How can I watch my back, or pay through the nose?” asks one student plaintively on

Even native speakers are flummoxed by regional idioms. “Happy as Larry,” “more front than Brighton” and  “man on the Clapham omnibus” are three that have stymied me.

While it’s best to leave idioms out of business writing altogether, you may not even know you’re using them. Here are a few that have made their way into my recent emails:

  • Back burner
  • Bells and whistles
  • Bend over backwards
  • Between a rock and a hard place
  • Get the ball rolling
  • Jump the shark
  • Monday morning quarterback
  • Reinvent the wheel

Which idioms bother you most?