Revealed: The 10 most annoying office phrases

  • ‘Can I borrow you for a sec’ named most overused and irritating workplace phrase
  • ‘Dial it up’ revealed as most misunderstood jargon
  • Online terms ‘OMG’, ‘LOL’, ‘Epic fail’ starting to creep into colleague conversations


On the surface, it may seem like a polite way to ask for someone’s time. But asking ‘Can I borrow you for a sec’ is also a guaranteed way to irritate your colleagues, according to our latest research.

The phrase was named not only the most overused (41 per cent) but also the most frustrating saying (13 per cent) heard in the workplace.


String theory

The survey of 2,000 workers, revealing the most commonly used sayings at work, also highlighted perennial meeting favourites ‘How long is a piece of string?’ (33 per cent) and ‘Move the goal post’ (28 per cent), which were named the second and third most overused respectively.

And when it comes to motivating staff, be wary of using phrases such as ‘Teamwork, dreamwork’ as one in eleven Brits (9 per cent) confessed it as the second most irritating phrase they used at work.

Second came ‘win-win’ (9 per cent), and ‘blue sky thinking’ (8 per cent) rounded out the top three when it comes to our buzzword bugbears.


Jargon overload

Work based jargon is commonplace, with 94 per cent of workers saying they are exposed to it, however the study highlights that many do not know the true meaning behind a phrase.

‘Dial it up’ is the most misunderstood expression in the workplace, with two fifths (42 per cent) believing it means ‘make a phone call’ rather than ‘amplify’.

A further 41 per cent think that ‘What’s the red thread?’ is code for ‘What’s the risk?’ when in fact it means ‘What is the consistent theme?’ And two in five (42 per cent) believe ‘let’s take it offline’ means ‘let’s discontinue this email conversation and continue it face-to-face’, instead of ‘Let’s discuss that after the meeting in private’.



Finally, those with a particular peeve for overused lingo at work should watch out. It might just be about to get a whole lot worse.

‘OMG’ (26 per cent), ‘LOL’ (19 per cent) and ‘On fleek’ (4 per cent) are slowly creeping into workplace conversations with employees taking them offline and using them ‘IRL’.



Phrases guaranteed to irritate your co-workers

  1. Can I borrow you for a sec? (13%)
  2. How long is a piece of string? (11%)
  3. Think outside the box (11%)
  4. Teamwork, dreamwork (11%)
  5. Keep me in the loop (9%)
  6. Win-win (9%)
  7. Pick your brains (8%)
  8. I’m stacked (8%)
  9. Blue sky thinking (8%)
  10. Just playing devil’s advocate (8%)


The most overused sayings in the workplace

  1. Can I borrow you for a sec? (41%)
  2. Pick your brains (36%)
  3. Think outside the box (35%)
  4. Keep me in the loop (34%)
  5. Get the ball rolling (34%)
  6. All hands on deck (33%)
  7. How long is a piece of string? (33%)
  8. Back to the drawing board (31%)
  9. Can you shed some light on this (30%)
  10. Move the goal-post (28%)


Online expressions people say in the workplace

  1. OMG (26%)
  2. LOL (19%)
  3. FYI (12%)
  4. Epic fail (10%)
  5. Cringe (8%)
  6. Swag (6%)
  7. YOLO (5%)
  8. On point / on fleek (4%)
  9. For the win (4%)
  10. That’s cray (3%)


Need to get out of the office? Find your perfect position now.


106 comments on “Revealed: The 10 most annoying office phrases

  1. Silvia Vousden - April 12, 2016 at 04:57

    I also can’t stand ‘at the end of the day’ and ‘when all is said and done’.

    1. rachel evans - August 31, 2016 at 21:57

      or just be as annoying and whenever someone says ‘at the end of the day’ reply with ‘ is night’, they soon get the hint!

  2. Tim Lafferty - April 12, 2016 at 11:54

    “Let me socialise that internally.”

    1. Elizabeth Ledsham Scott - June 22, 2016 at 14:05

      WHAT does that mean!

  3. Rashad Lawson - April 13, 2016 at 10:20

    “Advised.” All day everyday people are insisting i “Advise” people on things, or if I have been “Advised.” It’s meaningless to me at this point.

  4. Mandy Sullivan - May 13, 2016 at 14:28

    they missed “going foward” and “push the envelope”

    1. Anna Hayward - June 13, 2016 at 22:01

      I have even seen ‘going forward’ in novels! I was reading one last night, and I almost threw my Kindle on the floor! Politicians love that one too. It drives me nuts.

      1. Nick Moore - August 23, 2016 at 13:07

        Doctor Doctor there’s a squirrel in my pants…

      2. Helen Tart - August 28, 2016 at 07:36

        Oh going forward. Makes me so mad

      3. Brimstone52 - September 20, 2016 at 16:55

        Yeah well, moving on…

  5. EllieAqua - May 13, 2016 at 15:51

    ‘The vanilla facts’ and ‘organise some coffee’ – if I ever hear them again someone won’t be leaving alive.

  6. Caz Greenham Devon Author - May 16, 2016 at 13:23

    I was asked on Twitter, ‘can I pick your brain, Caz?’ My reply, ‘help yourself, but, at 11.10pm on a Sunday evening, you may not get a reply!’
    The person decided to message me the next day, instead. Wise choice.

  7. 676aldhelmstown710 - May 18, 2016 at 22:13

    We had a brain storming wagon in the circle meeting at the company that I used to work for,: a senior director said that he had a vision to grow the company in a bi lateral dimension: a colleague remarked that psychologists say there is a very fine dividing line between having a vision and an hallucination.

    1. RobC - June 27, 2016 at 11:41

      bi lateral dimension?
      Was his intention to approach the speed of light in a particle collider and enter subspace?

      1. 676aldhelmstown710 - June 27, 2016 at 17:14

        We hoped he would go through an event horizon and never reappear.

    2. Julie Owen - August 11, 2016 at 14:57

      You can’t do ‘brain storming’ any more it’s not PC!!

      1. 676aldhelmstown710 - August 11, 2016 at 17:26

        Don’t worry our managers had no brains that could be stormed.

        1. Nicci Romeo Dunn - September 5, 2016 at 14:06

          hahaha that is hilarious!! love it

  8. Kev Green - May 20, 2016 at 18:13

    I often wonder if the people using this pointless jargon in the workplace use it at home? I mean do they start to say, mow the lawn with a jaunty cry of “I’ll action that!” Or When asked if they would like a coffee reply ” let’s touch base on that!” A Night of intended passionate love making would be well and truly killed with the opening reply of “Can I borrow you for a sec for a vis to vis!!!”

  9. Paul Shuker - May 21, 2016 at 13:14

    What about “It is what it is” – grinds my gears….

  10. Colin Wright - May 25, 2016 at 16:15

    Grinds my gears really grinds my gears ?

  11. garthrod - May 30, 2016 at 17:51

    “I’m just going to reach out to him/her…”

  12. Emily - June 2, 2016 at 17:13

    ‘Gold standard’. Shudder…

  13. Wolf Chinnery - June 3, 2016 at 06:31

    ” lets nail this to a cross and see who follows ” my favourite.

    1. Art Posey - June 4, 2016 at 06:58

      Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.

    2. Tick Tock - June 9, 2016 at 14:17

      Let’s throw it out of the plane and see if its parachute opens.

  14. Steve Cavalli - June 3, 2016 at 10:06

    Up To Speed, In The Loop and worst of all Touch Base.

    1. Kate Mayall - June 27, 2016 at 17:54

      I always wonder what speed!

  15. nick carter - June 11, 2016 at 07:04

    How about ” I hear what you say BUT” rough translation ” there are two sorts of ideas, My ideas & bad ideas”. So far I have resisted the temptation so say “I never thought you were deaf, just another egomaniacal no-hoper.

  16. Richard Holmes - June 11, 2016 at 19:21

    i tried pushing the envelope.. but it was still stationary

    1. Kate Mayall - June 27, 2016 at 17:52

      stationery! or maybe not!

    2. Gordon Underwood - August 30, 2016 at 18:21

      a sign that read – this is not the stationary cupboard , it has moved’. seemed obvious to me.

  17. Derek Marshall - June 12, 2016 at 16:42

    The bloke who keeps saying …’just remind me….’ When he’s been taught/shown several times how to do something is cruising for a PIP (performance improvement plan)!

  18. angela carter - June 13, 2016 at 18:42

    i Detest the saying ” its not rocket science ” gets on my tits !!

    1. had_it - July 26, 2016 at 22:02

      Especially when they are asking you how to store a bipropellant fuel.

  19. sallyroberts - June 14, 2016 at 11:59

    You forgot “getting all our ducks in a row” and “by close of play” – For Goodness Sake, it’s an office not a cricket pitch!!!!

    1. Piscivore - July 27, 2016 at 20:06

      Ducks in a row is from wildfowling (shooting more than one bird with one shot) not cricket…

      1. rachel evans - August 31, 2016 at 21:59

        Close of play is a cricket ‘thing’ though?

  20. Sophie B - June 16, 2016 at 07:45

    We don’t contact people anymore. We “reach out” to them. Aaaarrrgghhh.

    1. Rachel Wainfur - August 23, 2016 at 18:07

      touch base, grrrr

  21. Simon Hare - June 16, 2016 at 22:22

    So, I hate everyone who starts an answer or explanation with ‘so’

  22. Jon Anderson - June 17, 2016 at 10:08

    “Kick it into the long grass”….. In an attempt to fight back I’ve made up my own set of meaningless and surreal jargon and like to “float the gravy boat” daily. I believe this to mean to supply an idea that isn’t well thought through, the opposit of what is correct, or something that will sink quickly. The gravy boat is not a boat the water/gravy is on the inside,

    1. Bobby - August 2, 2016 at 20:42

      “The World’s your Lobster”

  23. Gary Hulme - June 17, 2016 at 16:14

    Prefixing every sentence with the word “so”. Irritating!

    1. Laurie Calhoun - June 18, 2016 at 14:36

      So irritating! ☕

    2. Kym Kent - June 28, 2016 at 10:50

      Also ending every sentence with “yes” !!

      1. Bobby - August 2, 2016 at 20:40

        or “Yeh”………..or “Right” (usually dialect specific)

        1. Charles Fulford - August 7, 2016 at 06:58

          Or every statement/reporting/ explanation/ everything with an upward inflection as in a question mark (?) Aagh! “So I gets on the bus this morning? And this woman I sitting next to? She had a little dog in her shopping basket? I was,like, “What’s this all about?” Double aagh!!

          1. Bobby - August 10, 2016 at 17:56

            Listen to the Australians……………………………….ARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!
            (Pick any Australian subject on YouTube – It’ll kill you!!)

    3. Phil. D - July 9, 2016 at 22:34

      I thought I was the only one who noticed this, Gary. I swear they over rehearse the night before.

    4. Anne-Marie Michel - July 23, 2016 at 14:14

      or ‘wait’

    5. Michael Powell - July 31, 2016 at 18:38

      it appears to be rampant in the scientific community. Every time a scientist pops up on Radio 4, you can guarantee that s/he will open every other sentence with ‘So . . .’

      1. Charles Fulford - August 7, 2016 at 07:00

        Or answering a question with “Okay, well…..” just to show you that they’ve understood your question.

    6. Fabio Paolo Barbieri - August 13, 2016 at 17:29

      So I’m like… so he’s like…

      1. John Penny - August 15, 2016 at 19:24

        Annoys the crap out of me too Fabio!

      2. gnomentum - September 22, 2016 at 23:10

        So I turned round and said to him… So he turned round and said… So I turned round and told him…..

        1. Fabio Paolo Barbieri - April 11, 2017 at 18:03

          I guess that’s why they call it spin.

  24. Andy Popes - June 18, 2016 at 06:07

    A lot of these sayings have missed a popular request. ” Can you just……?”

  25. hoagy1 - June 18, 2016 at 13:03

    I always hated these dumb-ass phrases. Office people use them to try to look smart when in fact they are totally f*&%ing incompetent and incapable of doing anything properly for themselves.

    ‘Thinking outside the box’ – the concept is good. Unfortunately it is an overused term, mostly used by office jerks who are incapable of thinking for themselves, whether inside the box outside of it, or anywhere else for that matter.

  26. Tim Green - June 18, 2016 at 21:26

    Since when is FYI an”online” abbreviation?!

  27. noahpetshop - June 19, 2016 at 08:57

    To be honest !

  28. bossrat - June 21, 2016 at 08:57

    Can we draw a line under this?

  29. Susan Davies - June 22, 2016 at 05:30

    Let’s take this offline,
    yes I’ll reach out to you…

  30. Joanne Gardner Cresswell - June 25, 2016 at 13:01

    My most hated phrase is, “Starter for ten” which I hear and read a lot, drives me crazy!!!!!

  31. Simon Taylor-Mills - June 26, 2016 at 06:26

    I’m being funny but “I’m not being funny” grates me !!!

    1. RobC - June 27, 2016 at 11:46

      At least “I’m not being funny but” is usually followed by something that isn’t very funny.

  32. RobC - June 27, 2016 at 11:42

    I want 110%

    I want to champion blah blah

    helicopter view

  33. Barbara Kirk - June 27, 2016 at 13:00

    I think of the John Hackett song where Tony Patterson sings this!

  34. sallyroberts - June 30, 2016 at 08:29

    They missed “getting all our ducks in a row” “by close of play” and “let’s push back on that”

    1. Dave Driver - July 6, 2016 at 10:39

      I have all my ducks in a row.

      1. sallyroberts - July 6, 2016 at 13:24

        Yes but have you run the flag up the flag pole to see if anyone salutes it?

  35. alastairw - July 20, 2016 at 23:28

    Nobody says `Blue sky thinking’ anymore. Here’s a few more; `How much SEO juice can we squeeze from this content?’ ‘Did you sign Sara from HR’s leaving card?’ `Is this project do-able, what’s our delivery date?’ and finally, `Don’t think we want any old people in Digital…that’d be like recruiting women in the IT department, ridiculous.’ Oh wait, that last one is just thought, but never said out loud…

  36. Lita Brooker - July 22, 2016 at 16:32

    ‘to be honest’ (invariably followed by a lie); ‘okay?’ at the end of a sentence; ‘I’m sure you won’t mind’ (when you’re guaranteed to mind) 😀

  37. noahpetshop - July 22, 2016 at 22:14

    I will when I get a round tuit !

    1. Bob Bridges - September 18, 2016 at 08:36

      I had a round tuit on my office wall for years. TLA’s are what get my goat.

  38. Karen Upchurch Follett - July 23, 2016 at 12:12

    If the word ‘like’ didn’t exist, no-one under 25, in my office, would have anything to say!

  39. Peter Dixon - July 26, 2016 at 12:03

    I would venture “going forward….”

  40. Peter Dixon - July 26, 2016 at 12:05

    How about ” do you know where I’m coming from ?” aahhh!!!

  41. had_it - July 26, 2016 at 21:59

    You know, like, I don’t, you know, get, like, it. You know?

  42. Carole Main - August 1, 2016 at 08:28

    No one has even mentioned ‘hit the button’ if I hear that one more time……..
    Oh and have you noticed all the politicians are starting their sentences with ‘look…’

  43. Bobby - August 2, 2016 at 20:39

    The GREATEST game ever is this : Put all those phrases on a “bingo card” and take them to a meeting. The excitement grows as you cross them off and if you get a “Full House” you have to shout out “BINGO”, then get up and leave. Share it with a like-minded colleague, but don’t sit next to each other. It’s fabulous.

  44. noahpetshop - August 5, 2016 at 17:41

    At the end of the day, to be honest, …

  45. Mik Boon Afsc - August 6, 2016 at 08:58

    Counter it by writing the expected comments on cards distributed via the audience. Cross them off as they are used. First one to get a line shouts ” bullsh☆T bingo!!!

  46. mike hamblett - August 7, 2016 at 12:01

    ‘Going forward’

  47. Fabio Paolo Barbieri - August 13, 2016 at 17:29

    I’m surprised that “blue sky thinking” only came in at number nine. If I were to list all the reasons why I hate that phrase, I would have to write an essay.

  48. John Penny - August 15, 2016 at 19:26

    Mate of mine used to manage a print factory and some tosser of a management jerkoid said in front of him ‘Let’s throw it on the floor and see what the cat laps up’. So my mate physically threw him out of the building. He never came back…

    1. gazado - August 25, 2016 at 11:48

      That is absolutely amazing.

  49. John Penny - August 15, 2016 at 19:28

    I heard Leanne Rymnes (wrong spelling?) on with Ken Bruce last week (Tracks of My Years) Want to listen to some irritating American? Hell’s teeth; that’s one right there! About 1145 each day if you dare do a ‘listen again’ thing…

  50. Elderscrolls - August 23, 2016 at 20:55

    There is an easy way to solve the problem of annoying office phrases. NOBODY SHOULD COMMUNICATE OR SPEAK TO ANYONE IN CASE ANNOYING THE OTHER PERSON. Just playing devils advocate here…………..

  51. gazado - August 25, 2016 at 11:40

    I thought the idea was to use these phrases to annoy colleagues and brighten up my day. E.g. using Just playing devil’s advocate as number 10 is a bit missplaced because you use it specifically to annoy people so is that the odd one out?

  52. ritchie seath - August 27, 2016 at 23:11

    lets touch base

  53. Helen Tart - August 28, 2016 at 07:36

    I work with this girl if she says touch base or outside the box again in going loco

  54. Mahek jaffri - August 28, 2016 at 07:51

    cool why keeping the job

  55. Pieter Grobler - August 28, 2016 at 19:41

    ‘Any takers?’

  56. matopoli - August 29, 2016 at 20:01

    Surely “I’m just thinking out loud here” is one

  57. David R Cooke - August 31, 2016 at 08:26

    Bottom line is 99% of people who work in offices despise their colleagues and feel that their colleagues despise them. Faux camaraderie is rampant. backstabbing is the norm. It’s gotten worse since those stupid open plan offices. Working in an office causes depression more than any mundane factory job. Only the career backstabbers would disagree.

    1. Brimstone52 - September 20, 2016 at 16:59

      No they wouldn’t. Well,, not to your face anyway.

  58. Peter Elliott - August 31, 2016 at 09:23

    I don’t see “At the End of the Day” in this list. Really irritating phrase.

  59. Jenny Boden - September 6, 2016 at 14:48

    What’s this “going forward”? Oh you mean” in future” !!!

  60. Paul Gelsthorpe - September 14, 2016 at 10:31

    ‘Death by powerpoint’ as a phrase is officially worse than actual death.

  61. Dave Thompson - September 16, 2016 at 12:09

    Singing from the same hymn sheet, outside the tent, horses for courses, run it up the flagpole, touch base…

  62. Person223 - September 22, 2016 at 02:44

    We’re getting out in the weeds here. Aside from the buzzwords, but working in a technical field where none of the supervisors or managers are technical people is annoying. Worse yet, they will never put a technical person in management. Even a few in the mix would make for better decisions.

  63. Amber Eliot - October 14, 2016 at 00:09

    I had an old boss who used to say “can I borrow you for a sec” ALL THE TIME, In the end, I had a quiet word and actually told him how annoying it is and showed him this article and I didn’t get sacked! He actually apologised, thanked me for my honesty and stopped saying it to everyone all the time, RESULT. Thank you Reed.

  64. YESMATE - February 15, 2017 at 16:39

    “It’s Friiiiiiiiiidayyyy!!!!”

  65. Elizabeth Phillips - February 16, 2018 at 22:49

    People who say “Yourself” and “ourselves”, when they mean “you” and “us”. I’ve heard a colleague on the phone to a client say “Can I call yourself back?” And I’ve had a client tell me “Yourselves did a report for myself last month”.

  66. Sean Donelan - February 28, 2019 at 19:07

    I attended a Schneider Electric meeting in Perth (Australia) back in 2010. Someone strung together the following, “we need more strategic blue sky thinking, upskill the sales teams to gain more traction, so we can apply more leverage to our key vertical markets and break through the current sales ceiling.

    I had to excuse myself to go outside and promply throw up.
    I’m sure some of my old colleagues at Siemens could add many more pointless sayings to the list.
    Does anyone else sit in on meetings and run a platitudes sweepstake?