Let’s take a quick pop quiz. If a colleague said any of these phrases to you, would you know what they meant?

A) Let’s circle back.
B) Are we boiling the ocean here?
C) This is like herding cats!
D) We’ll need to run that up the flagpole.

If you recognized—and understood—all of these terms… congratulations! Sounds like you’re proficient in workplace jargon. The modern workplace has a language all its own, and we teamed up with LinkedIn to see how all this jargon helps—or hurts—communication between colleagues.

Jargon makes people feel "out of the loop"

In a survey of more than 8,000 working professionals across 8 countries, we found that 58% of people surveyed feel their coworkers overuse jargon. We polled workers in India, Vietnam, Colombia, Brazil, the U.K., Japan, Australia, and the U.S., and those surveyed in India were most likely to say their coworkers are using too much jargon at work.

Duolingo character Zari looking suspicious as Junior points to a chart propped on an easel.

If they could, nearly half of the people polled would eliminate jargon altogether! And though we at Duolingo know that shared language can build inclusivity amongst communities, there isn’t always a roadmap for learning corporate-speak. In fact, 60% of workers say they have to figure out jargon all on their own, and that the process causes stress and slows down productivity. So we thought it might be time to look at the terms that are most often causing miscommunication.

Country Most confusing jargon
U.S. 1. Boiling the ocean
2. Herding cats
3. Ducks in a row
4. Move the needle
5. Run it up the flagpole
U.K. 1. Blue sky thinking
3. Low-hanging fruit
4. Move the needle
5. Ducks in a row
Australia 1. Boiling the ocean
2. Noodling
3. Low-hanging fruit
4. Juice worth the squeeze
5. Wheelhouse
India 1. Keep me in the loop
2. Take offline
3.Win-win situation
4. Core competency
5. Value-add
Brazil 1. Feedback
2. Networking
4. Briefing
5. Brainstorm
Colombia 1. By EOD
3. KPI
4. Out of the box
5. FYI
*Note: The Japanese characters seen here make the sound of the English word.
1. バジェット(budget)
3. アジェンダ (agenda)
4. アサイン (assign)
5. リスケ (reschedule)
Vietnam 1. FYI
2. KPI
3. Low-hanging fruit
4. SOW
5. By EOD

You might notice that a lot of these terms are English words, even though many of these countries have an official language other than English! How does that happen? 🤔

We asked Dr. Hope Wilson, a Senior Learning and Curriculum Manager at Duolingo and an expert on linguistics and intercultural communication. “People typically use jargon in the workplace to project an identity of business-related authority,” Hope explains. “By knowing and using specialized lingo, you (in theory, at least!) show the people around you that you're sophisticated and in-touch with the latest business trends.”

As we look at the chart above, we can see that English terms get adopted as buzzwords, which implies that English itself is closely linked across the world with business savvy. (This is why we invest so heavily in our English courses at Duolingo—we know that learning English can positively impact economic mobility!) Simply by using English terminology, a worker can demonstrate that they're on the cutting edge of business-related knowledge. This might be why you’d hear two speakers who don’t share a first language using English to discuss business matters together—it’s almost like the lingua franca of business situations!

So, is jargon going away?

Don’t get your hopes up! Even though lots of people would like to see it eliminated, there’s very little chance that this ubiquitous workplace dialect disappears completely. But there are a few things you can do to ensure that you build an inclusive workplace with clear communication—even if jargon slips in once in a while.

LinkedIn career expert Andrew McCaskill has a few easy tips for communicating clearly at work!

  1. Ask questions: This is something we recommend to language learners often! If you don’t know a word or phrase, don’t be afraid to ask questions. After all, your manager or peer wants you, and the team, to succeed.
  2. Speak with empathy: About a quarter of people surveyed admit to using jargon without even realizing. Be mindful that colleagues who are new to the workplace, or who are based in a country other than the U.S., might not know all of the terminology. Be mindful of this learning curve to help professionals of all backgrounds and levels feel included and understood.
  3. Keep it simple: Remember, jargon isn’t equally understood by everyone. While every workplace has its unique culture and terminology, do your best to keep language simple. For example, instead of “let’s get our ducks in a row before this meeting” try replacing it with something more literal, like: “Let’s get organized before this meeting.”

Clarity is key!

Moral of the story: Jargon isn’t going anywhere, but there are things we can do to ensure we are creating equitable workplaces where everyone feels included and understood. Read the full State of Workplace Jargon report here!