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.


  • Silvia Vousden

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

    • rachel evans

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

  • Tim Lafferty

    “Let me socialise that internally.”

    • Elizabeth Ledsham Scott

      WHAT does that mean!

  • Rashad Lawson

    “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.

  • Mandy Sullivan

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

    • Anna Hayward

      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.

      • Nick Moore

        Doctor Doctor there’s a squirrel in my pants…

      • Helen Tart

        Oh going forward. Makes me so mad

      • Brimstone52

        Yeah well, moving on…

  • EllieAqua

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

  • Caz Greenham Devon Author

    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.

  • 676aldhelmstown710

    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.

    • RobC

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

      • 676aldhelmstown710

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

    • Julie Owen

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

      • 676aldhelmstown710

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

        • Nicci Romeo Dunn

          hahaha that is hilarious!! love it

  • Colin Wright

    Grinds my gears really grinds my gears ?

  • garthrod

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

  • Emily

    ‘Gold standard’. Shudder…

  • Wolf Chinnery

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

    • Art Posey

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

  • Steve Cavalli

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

    • Kate Mayall

      I always wonder what speed!

  • nick carter

    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.

  • Richard Holmes

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

    • Kate Mayall

      stationery! or maybe not!

    • Gordon Underwood

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

  • Derek Marshall

    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)!

  • angela carter

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

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

  • sallyroberts

    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!!!!

    • Piscivore

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

      • rachel evans

        Close of play is a cricket ‘thing’ though?

  • Sophie B

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

    • Rachel Wainfur

      touch base, grrrr

  • Simon Hare

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

  • Jon Anderson

    “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,

    • Bobby

      “The World’s your Lobster”

  • Gary Hulme

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

    • So irritating! ☕

    • Kym Kent

      Also ending every sentence with “yes” !!

      • Bobby

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

        • Charles Fulford

          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!!

          • Bobby

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

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

    • Anne-Marie Michel

      or ‘wait’

    • Michael Powell

      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 . . .’

      • Charles Fulford

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

    • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

      So I’m like… so he’s like…

      • John Penny

        Annoys the crap out of me too Fabio!

      • gnomentum

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

        • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

          I guess that’s why they call it spin.

  • Andy Popes

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

  • hoagy1

    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.

  • Tim Green

    Since when is FYI an”online” abbreviation?!

  • noahpetshop

    To be honest !

  • bossrat

    Can we draw a line under this?

  • Susan Davies

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

  • Joanne Gardner Cresswell

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

  • Simon Taylor-Mills

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

    • RobC

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

  • RobC

    I want 110%

    I want to champion blah blah

    helicopter view

  • Barbara Kirk

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

  • sallyroberts

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

    • Dave Driver

      I have all my ducks in a row.

      • sallyroberts

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

  • alastairw

    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…

  • Lita Brooker

    ‘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) 😀

  • noahpetshop

    I will when I get a round tuit !

    • Bob Bridges

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

  • Karen Upchurch Follett

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

  • Peter Dixon

    I would venture “going forward….”

  • Peter Dixon

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

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

  • Carole Main

    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…’

  • Bobby

    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.

  • noahpetshop

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

  • Mik Boon Afsc

    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!!!

  • mike hamblett

    ‘Going forward’

  • Fabio Paolo Barbieri

    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.

  • John Penny

    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…

    • gazado

      That is absolutely amazing.

  • John Penny

    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…

  • Elderscrolls

    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…………..

  • gazado

    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?

  • ritchie seath

    lets touch base

  • Helen Tart

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

  • Mahek jaffri

    cool why keeping the job

  • ‘Any takers?’

  • matopoli

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

  • David R Cooke

    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.

    • Brimstone52

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

  • Peter Elliott

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

  • Jenny Boden

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

  • Paul Gelsthorpe

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

  • Dave Thompson

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

  • Person223

    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.

  • Amber Eliot

    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.


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