Horrific Corporate Jargons

“We have to slaughter a few sacred cows to beat the hell out of our competition. After all, sacred cows make the best burgers!”
declares our CEO, in a meeting with his leadership team. 

The words feel strange to me, but nobody else seems to mind, so I go with it. He uses it so often, that it inadvertently becomes part of our vocabulary.

The term ‘sacred cow’ is ubiquitous. It appears in well known books, talks, movies, speeches and features prominently in corporate jargon. I figured it is one of those strange quirky idioms where the contemporary meaning has moved away from its origins. Till one day, I looked up its origin.

Deep breath.

The Sacred Cow

The reverence for cows is quintessentially Hindu. Consequently, the denigration or harm to them is considered offensive. Couple that with the complex dynamics of India’s colonial past, and the condescension from equating reverence with superstition or lack of logic, and you get an unintentionally potent term.

But that’s not all. The unnecessary violence in the words is a challenge for vegetarians, vegans, animal lovers and pacifists. 

So let’s see. These words may be hurtful to only about 1.2 billion Hindus, and hundreds of millions of vegans, animal lovers and pacifists!

Words matter

The words we choose to express ourselves, represent who we are. 

I’ve realized with increasing horror, the meaning and origin of the words that have invaded our vocabulary and become an integral part of our corporate lexicon. We say these things with nonchalance in the contemporary context, without ever realizing their meaning, without even thinking.

Many of these iconic idioms in our corporate jargon aren’t modern, either. Our Gen Z and Gen Alpha can’t relate to these terms anymore!

In my own journey of Mindful Leadership – I am paying more attention to words, their meaning and their origin. 

Mindful leadership is about connecting who we are, to how we lead, to translating our purpose into everyday actions that help our teams and businesses thrive. How we express ourselves is an integral part of being a Mindful Leader.
Learn more about our approach to Mindful Leadership here

Horrific words and idioms, and their alternatives

I have been trying to challenge myself to make iconic quotes more inclusive. Some are good, some I am still struggling with, and some are so entrenched that my brain can’t fathom an alternative! 

You be the judge. 

The Horrific ones…

These jargons or idioms have a sordid, unsavory past. Yes, it is much worse than you think!

The Animal Harming ones…

65%+ households in the US have at least one pet. These jargons or idioms may not endear you to them.

The Ableist ones…

1 billion people worldwide have some type of documented disability. In a conference or zoom right now, you are most likely interacting with someone who might have a disability that is not obvious. Why use words that might hurt someone we care about?

The Mental Health ones…

1 in 8 people in the world, as per WHO, and 1 in 5 in the US, as per NAMI, live with a ‘mental disorder’. These jargon and idioms use mental health challenges in a judgmental way, as a metaphor. 

This is only a small number of the jargon that invades our corporate lexicon. Think of the many ageist ones (ex: past her prime/ over the hill/ past sell by date), or the ones that use economic inequality in a judgemental way (ex: poorly done / richly deserved), or the ones that use light and dark, and skin color, as a metaphor for good and bad (ex: blackmail, blacklist, brown nose, dark thoughts, dark days), or the ones that use height as a metaphor (ex: fall short) and so on…

These jargons, metaphors and idioms reinforce stereotypes, and differences rather than reinforce our similarities that could help us see each other as unique human beings.

In researching for this article, there is a pit in my stomach as I realize the sheer magnitude of people we could hurt with the words we choose…

Surely we can do better. Are you in?

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