OFFICE CLICHÉ ETYMOLOGY: "BANDWIDTH"

Office lingo can be so cliche.

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A mix of clichéd metaphors and hyperbolic buzzwords such as “mission critical” and “scalability,” the ubiquitousness of office clichés will make you feel like you’re taking crazy pills. Because if you work in an office long enough you know this seemingly innocuous jargon is actually loaded in hilarious subtext. This week in Office Cliché Etymology we take a look at “bandwidth.”

The cliché: “Bandwidth”

What it means: The amount of time and/or manpower needed to complete a task.

What it really means: The amount of time and/or manpower needed to complete a task that is too menial to be completed by the person who originally received the assignment, and thus, it’s foisted upon a person of a lower pay-grade. Almost always used in the form a question, though it’s more like a command disguised as a question. (Example below.) Typically followed up with an excuse such as “I have back-to-back meetings,” or “We all need to pull our weight around here,” which is code for “I’m probably going to take a three-hour lunch today” or “My tee-time is 2 p.m. and cannot be changed.”

Used in a sentence: “Charlie, do you think you have the bandwidth to handle the Brownstein deposition today? I’ve got a, er, thing, later. It might take all day, but I’m pretty sure Janice can order in Schlotzski’s in for lunch.”

Origin: The word “bandwidth” originated during the early days of broadcasting, when old radio tuners used a vertical needle that moved sideways along a “band” marked with numbers. A radio station that had a strong signal could be heard across a wider stretch of this band than stations with weak signals—so it had a larger “bandwidth.”

Bonus fact: As a technological term, bandwidth refers to “transmission capacity”—the amount of data that can be passed along a communications channel in a given period of time. As a business term, Forbes lambasts it as “geeky, pretentious shorthand.” And, it can be confusing as well. As one guy acknowledged on a grammar website: “I started using the term myself and thought it was an excellent way of expressing that you don’t have enough time for something. Recently, I used this term with a potential client and he interpreted it as meaning that I still had a dial-up internet connection, so would not be able to handle his needs.”

If you’ve got a word or phrase that you think qualifies as an office cliché, email us here and tell us why you think we should feature it!