Business Jargon: A Trip Down Memory Lane


November 1, 2023

Business Jargon “are words or phrases used by business employees to convey unique ideas and directions.”[1]

The World Bank, like every other organization, no matter the size or industry, was no stranger to business jargon.  During my almost 28-year tenure, I remember many, but I wanted to share three that stood out to me.  Let me take you down memory lane.

Black Books.  The ubiquitous three ring binder, usually 2” to 3” in width, filled bookshelves in offices, hallways, storerooms, and any other nook and cranny in HQ and Country Offices.  They were almost always black in color and held a variety of documents detailing projects, sector work, administrative pronouncements, etc.  The most complete set of project or sector documents was usually in the Task Manager/Team Leader office.  Heaven forbid that you touched those Black Books without permission.   And it was better to lose your clothing on a mission, than to lose the Black Books.  The Bank’s move to IRIS (Integrated Records Information System–our first electronic filing system) spelled the beginning of the end of the much loved and hated Black Books.

Haircut.  Almost every February, the VP or Department manager would stand up at and say: “We need to take a haircut.”  Sometimes it was a “trim” and sometimes it was a full haircut.  In other words, usually due to a cost overrun somewhere in the institution, and sometimes within our own Vice Presidential Unit, we would have to return anywhere from 2% to 5% of our total budget.  Managers would scramble around attempting to identify the cost cuts.  Delaying the start of a position or cutting the representation budget were two common ways to find savings.

Mission.  “I am going on mission” or “I just returned from mission,” were common phrases.  Even though I did not work on projects or sectors, carrying out training in a country office usually for a few weeks allowed me the opportunity to say, “I just returned from mission.”  (On my first mission, I remember having to pick up a wallet of American Express Traveler Cheques.)  Now, if you weren’t in Operations, partaking in a mission even if it was to conduct training, enhanced your status.  In mid-1995, I was conducting IRIS training for a group of very skeptical and a bit resistant Task Managers from the East Asia Department.  As I had just returned from “mission” to Ghana, as part of the File Improvement Program (FIP), I dropped the phrase “I just returned from mission to Ghana.”  Suddenly, their attitude seemed to change, and they paid closer attention to what I was teaching, even though they never asked me exactly what I did on mission.

Do you remember these?  Do you have a bit of business jargon that you remember using during your Bank tenure?  If so, please place it in the comment section below.  Who knows, maybe I will even include it in one of my Foolish Thoughts podcast episodes.

[1] 45 Examples of Business Jargon or Phrases.  Indeed. March 10, 2023

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