The other night, as a bit of a lark, I started to watch this relatively new series on Netflix called Partner Track. It is about a group of associates who are trying to make partner at a high-powered New York City law firm. They constantly struggle to make themselves look good and their fellow associates look bad in front of senior partners and potential clients.
In the first episode, associates spend time predicting what phrases will be used in a meeting about a potential merger and acquisition. They guess phrases like boil the ocean, that’s real money, golden ticket, kick the tires, circle the wagons, slippery slope, and align the incentives. It turns out they are right. Within minutes after the meeting has begun, the jargon spews forth.
The scene cracked me up. When I was in consulting, I found lingo used in business meetings hilarious. I started recording common phrases and then got sophisticated enough to divide phrases into groupings. There were the sports metaphors, like full court press, taking it over the finish line, there is no “I” in team, the ball’s in your court, Hail Mary pass, down for the count. And whenever we were bidding on a long-shot proposal, you could bet someone would pipe up with “any Given Sunday” you never know what will happen.
Then there were the money metaphors, like cash cow, printing money, pouring money down the drain, money talks, time is money, rainmaker, and giving my two cents.
Next came the old sage metaphors like it’s not over til the fat lady sings, don’t reinvent the wheel, you’ve got to break eggs to make an omelet, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, it’s not in my wheelhouse, at the drop of a hat, don’t let the cat out of the bag, you missed the boat, leave no stone unturned, and cut to the chase.
Consultants would tell me phrases their parents used when they were growing up. They gave examples like I brought you into this world, I can take you out, tell someone who cares, two peas in a pod, the world is your oyster, you’re barking up the wrong tree, you’re making a mountain out of a molehill, she’s a diamond in the rough, life isn’t a bed of roses, and, of course, money doesn’t grow on trees.
Often when we had meetings, just to get things going, we would see how many phrases we could use in the first five minutes. Then we would make up our own bad sage sayings. My favorite was “assign blame whenever possible” which, of course, is the worst thing you can do.
There is something about these sayings, I find fascinating. Often, they speak of an era. Parents who grew up during the depression used sayings about tough times—A penny saved is a penny earned, don’t cry over spilt milk, a stitch in time saves nine. FDR said, “It is the American people themselves who are in the driver’s seat.” He called people who were in denial about the horrors of war “cheerful idiots.” And he frequently used the phrase “separating the wheat from the chaff.”
Many popular sayings come from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. They include haste makes waste, lost time is never found again, no gains without pains, we must indeed all hang together or most assuredly, we shall all hang separately, well done is better than well said, and guests like fish begin to smell after three days.
My mom’s favorite saying was, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. I was thinking about that saying as I watched the news coverage about the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. Say what you want about the woman, there was no question that she ruled with a quiet grace and dignity that is all too rare in today’s rude crude world. It is difficult not to juxtapose her countenance with Trump’s mean-spirited comments about others. I am sad and embarrassed as I reflect on the fact that America elected a president who clearly put no stock in grace, class, kindness, or compassion. The word decorum was not in his lexicon. Such virtues were not a priority for us as a nation when we elected him to be our president, and the world was watching.
In closing, when I reflect on where we are as a country, perhaps the most appropriate saying is, you reap what you sow. Let us hope that one of my favorite authors, George Eliot, was right when she said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.”
Maria Grant was principal-in-charge of a federal human capital practice at an international consulting firm. While on the Eastern Shore, she focuses on writing, reading, piano, gardening, and nature.