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The workplace is a fascinating place for anyone who loves language. There’s something about the office environment that seems to encourage the inventive use of language. For better or worse, the English language is often toyed with in the office space, creating whole new words and phrases that you’ll seldom hear outside of an office environment.


Here are some of the most common words, phrases and idioms that you’ll come across if you’re working in an English-speaking office today.


Water-cooler chat


This is an Americanism that has crossed over into British English too. Most offices these days have a water cooler, and this phrase has come to mean anything that people talk about when they happen to meet at the water cooler. This tends to refer to gossip or trivial things like discussing what happened in the soap opera that was on last night.



Close of play


Often shortened to COP in emails and text messages, and also as end of play or EOP, this simply means by the end of the working day. Why do bosses ask if they can have this work done by close of play rather than just asking if they can have it done today? Perhaps they are trying to make work sound more fun, as close of play is a sporting term, particularly used when it comes to cricket, where it means when the game ends for the day.

在邮件和短信里通常会被缩写为COP,也同样可以写作EOP,end of play,它的意思仅仅是下班前。为什么老板会问他们是否能在下班前把这个工作做完而不是问今天他们能不能把它做完?也许他们在尝试让工作听起来更有趣,结束是当做一个体育术语,特别是用于板球的结尾,在这里它的意思是一天板球运动的结尾。

Annual leave


In the days before office-speak took over, people would simply say that they were going on holiday. But that doesn’t sound quite corporate, serious and professional enough. So you’ll often find people referring to their summer holiday as their ‘period of annual leave,’ for example, in their out-of-office auto reply email.


Hard copy


More and more of our work documents are created and shared online without the need for printing, which is better for the environment as well as saving us time and effort. But sometimes real, physical documents are required. When someone wants a physical print out of a document rather than an electronic copy, they will ask for a hard copy.


Think outside the box


No one knows what the box is, or what’s inside it, but bosses seem to like it when workers are outside it. If someone at your work asks you to think outside the box it means they don’t want you to limit your thinking. They want creativity, and ideas, and thinking outside the mainstream. This term is used to try and encourage new ideas and a fresh approach to problems.




Brainstorming is another way to encourage workers to think outside the box. It’s a technique by which a group discussion is held to produce ideas. Ideas are spontaneously bounced around the group, often as a way of trying to solve a problem. Brainstorming actually goes back a long way, all the way back to 1939 when it was first devised by advertising executive Alex F. Osborn. He began developing methods for creative problem solving, as he was frustrated by employees’ inability to develop creative ideas individually for ad campaigns. In response, he began hosting group-thinking sessions and discovered a significant improvement in the quality and quantity of ideas produced by employees.


Desk jockey


This is a pun on the term disc jockey, and the chances are you’re being a desk jockey right now. Instead of spinning lots of records, you might be on your laptop checking emails, reading this article, while you’re eating a pasta salad or drinking a coffee from your work’s canteen. Ringing phones, beeping pagers, overflowing inboxes – they’re all the tools of the desk jockey.





This stands for Unique Selling Point or Unique Selling Proposition. It’s used a lot in the marketing sector and was introduced as office-speak way back in the 1940s. It refers to those successful products that have unique, specific attractions to consumers – so much so that they were willing to switch to it from their brand of choice.


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