20 Puzzling Office Slang Terms Decoded

Exhausted bored manager sleeping at workplace with comic paper notes on eyes. Sleepy lazy employee relaxing on chair, feeling fatigue, overworked, low energy level, practicing stress reduce

20 Puzzling Office Slang Terms Decoded

When you’re in the midst of one of those days at work, a bit of humor helps. Sometimes, the moments you encounter at work are so ridiculous you can’t help but laugh. Maybe your boss is in a mood or Gary the gossiper is spreading a rumor about you. Sometimes it’s a customer who seems to delight in spilling their bad juju on you. Shake it off with a belly laugh. There is so much slang used at work, for example, that we just accept it as normal. But it sounds weird if you’ve never heard it before. Beat a dead horse, anyone?

You probably use some of this slang at work without a second thought. You may have even nodded along when someone used one of these phrases without being entirely sure what they meant. Sometimes, context helps but sometimes the verbiage makes no sense to a rational mind unaccustomed to all the silly things said at work. When you’re over it and need to decompress, it’s therapeutic to giggle your way through some of the most common phrases used at work.

To put this list of funny work slang together, 247 Tempo didn’t have to look far. Sites like the New York Post, Business Insider, and Reddit all offer a look into conversations held at work. Anyone with a job can relate to the use of work slang when in work mode. When you’re not in work mode, they’re just hilarious. (To learn more interesting phrases, check out US Phrases That Make No Sense to the Rest of the World.) 

Brownie points

Closeup image of a woman using , touching and pointing atsmart phone while eating brownie cake in cafe
Source: Farknot Architect / Shutterstock.com
Earning brownie points at work has nothing to do with getting a sweet treat.

This saying means you’re getting extra attention or praise for doing something above and beyond. It’s a nice boost to the ego, but that’s pretty much it. You can’t trade brownie points in for cold, hard cash (which would be way better than the ego boost).

A day late and a dollar short 

Source: Inok / Getty Images
“A day late and a dollar short” seems like a passive-aggressive comment.

This is a confusing and seemingly nice way of saying that whatever was produced is not enough. Nothing quite like a bit of passive aggressiveness on a Monday to get the week started with inner rage as fuel.

Cost an arm and a leg

Close up top view of concentrated woman work on laptop manage family expenditures expenses using gadget, focused housewife busy calculating finances, plan budget on computer, pay bills or taxes online
Source: fizkes / Shutterstock.com
If something “costs an arm and a leg,” it’s definitely expensive.

Paying with limbs is not a thing (unless you’re in a different kind of business altogether). This saying means that something is prohibitively expensive.

All work and no play

Exhausted bored manager sleeping at workplace with comic paper notes on eyes. Sleepy lazy employee relaxing on chair, feeling fatigue, overworked, low energy level, practicing stress reduce
Source: fizkes / Shutterstock.com
Make time for rest and relaxation outside of work.

When saying this, you’re noting that you’ve been working a lot, leaving no time for life’s pleasures. It’s much better to “work hard and play hard” rather than burn out because you didn’t create a decent work-life balance.


Boiling water in the pot on the stove in the evening
Source: JRP Studio / Shutterstock.com
Putting something on the “back burner” refers to setting it aside for later.

When something is placed on the back burner, it means it’s set aside for execution at a later time. (Often this means it’s forgotten altogether.)

Start off on the right foot

Source: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
Everyone wants to start their projects off on the right foot.

This saying refers to the start of a project. Essentially, you want to get things started correctly, which allows for a harmonious project throughout. Does it ever happen though?

Burning the midnight oil

Stressed asian business woman working late at night in the office hands on head feeling headache. Tired woman looking at laptop working hard sitting in the dark room office. Overtime concept
Source: GBJSTOCK / Shutterstock.com
“Burning the midnight oil” refers to working late.

This saying refers to those days when you work overtime, often in a crunch to get a task completed before the deadline. It’s never fun, especially not when it’s the result of a higher-up’s oversight.


Closeup portrait young business woman, thinking, daydreaming deeply about something, looking confused, trying remember something isolated white background. Negative emotion,facial expression reaction
Source: pathdoc / Shutterstock.com
You don’t want to appear wishy-washy at work.

If this saying is used, it means someone is vacillating, and needs to make up their mind already. You lose credibility when you’re wishy-washy, which results in missed opportunities.

Beating a dead horse

Funny portrait of a young horse clowning and snooting around
Source: Annabell Gsoedl / Shutterstock.com
“Beating a dead” horse has nothing to do with the four-legged animal.

The imagery this saying brings up is not at all related to its meaning. When you “beat a dead horse,” you are broaching a topic or trying to execute an idea that is proven not to work.

Bite the bullet

Furious nervous businessman biting bullet dressed in black suit white shirt tie surfing netbook making call on cellphone punching on wooden table in city cafe in summer
Source: GaudiLab / Shutterstock.com
“Bite the bullet” typically refers to doing something unpleasant.

When you “bite the bullet,” you just suck it up and forge forward. Much like what you do on Monday mornings and during those weekly meetings that don’t seem to accomplish anything.

Show you the ropes​​​​

Rope detail. Close-up of its rope texture Depth of field minimalism ropes
Source: cenkgursoylu art studio / Shutterstock.com
“Showing someone the ropes” is a funny slang expression about work.

This saying means someone is going to show you how to do something. This occurs during the first days at work when there is training, assuming you’re not just thrown in for a “trial by fire.”

Call the shots

Source: FatCamera / Getty Images

A multi-ethnic group of medical staff are indoors in a hospital. They are wearing medical clothing. A Caucasian female doctor is giving a presentation to the others.

Your boss or team lead probably “calls the shots” at work.

The person who “calls the shots” is the boss or leader of a project. It means final decisions are filtered through them. Usually, they’re unpleasant. But they manage to delegate with a smile on their face.

A piece of cake

Red Velvet Cake is traditionally a red, crimson, or scarlet-colored layer cake, layered with ermine icing.
Source: Tahub Yam / Shutterstock.com
A “piece of cake” implies that something is simple.

This saying refers to something that is exceptionally easy. Even when it’s not.

All ears

Body language ear pulling
Source: BUCHAKA ALEXANDER / Shutterstock.com
“All ears” is an odd expression.

When someone is “all ears,” it means you have their undivided attention. A rarity in the smartphone era.

Bent out of shape

Confused african American millennial woman isolated on grey studio background hold smartphone have problem with gadget, frustrated biracial female experience cellphone malfunction or virus attack
Source: fizkes / Shutterstock.com
Getting “bent out of shape” refers to feeling angry or upset.

This saying refers to feeling out of sorts or upset about something. It’s usually uttered with a judgmental tone.

Bounce ideas

Source: fizkes/Shutterstock
Bouncing ideas around helps coworkers brainstorm and perfect their projects.

If you picture ideas as balls, you can imagine how they’re passed to one another in a meeting room while a team works out the kinks of a project or innovates. Sometimes, it’s like a friendly game of ping pong. Other times, it’s like death by dodgeball.

Bring home the bacon

Source: HandmadePictures / Getty Images
“Bringing home the bacon” simply means earning money.

It’s a staple food in many kitchens and when you bring it home, it means you’re earning money. Which you need… for the bacon.

Pass the buck

Source: MangoStar_Studio / Getty Images

Two business colleagues working together in meeting space. Mentor instructing newcomer. Young Indian woman with laptop and mid adult man with tablet discussing new project. Teamwork or training concept (Two business colleagues working together in meet

The work slang “pass the buck” may have originated as a poker term.

When you “pass the buck,” you’re absolving yourself of responsibility. There’s at least one person in every work setting who is notorious for this. Usually, it’s your boss.

Work fingers to the bone

Young sleepy employee business woman wear casual shirt sit work at office with pc laptop put head down on desk sleep show thumb up isolated on plain yellow color background Achievement career concept
Source: ViDI Studio / Shutterstock.com
You should never literally work your fingers to the bone.

When you’re typing your life away, it may feel like this. But this saying refers to working non-stop. Keep your finger flesh. Take a break.

Back to square one

Source: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock
No one likes having to go back to square one.

When you’ve spent time on a project and find that it’s not going well, you have to go “back to square one,” which means you have to start over. Yes, this is the moment when you seriously consider burning the whole place down. (Not had your fill of workplace humor? Check out The Funny Side of the Grind: Here Are 31 Hilarious Quips About Work.) 

To top