Business Schools

A Crash Course in Classroom Jargon


By Jeffrey Gangemi Administrators and students agree that the most challenging part of being an international student at a U.S. B-school is picking up the English language. To help ease the transition, here's a list of terms and distinctions that will be helpful in your first weeks of class.

By no means complete, the list nevertheless makes a good starting point. Included are business terms, slang, and expressions commonly used in civic, government, and trade organizations.

Business and B-School Terms

Band-Aid: Literally, a miniature adhesive bandage. In business, a quick and temporary fix to a larger problem

Blackberry: A type of portable e-mail system.

CEO (Chief Executive Officer) vs. Chairman of the Board: The chief executive officer runs the day-to-day operations of a company, whereas the chairman of the board heads the governing body in charge of making corporate policy.

Cold call: In business, it means making a sales call without a prior contact or appointment. In B-school, it's a method of teaching, where a professor randomly selects a student to discuss a business case.

Copyright: The exclusive right to make and dispose of copies of a literary, musical, or artistic work.

Cost-benefit analysis: Technique used to quantify the tangible and intangible upsides and downsides of a project.

Deliverable: Final product.

Drill down: To increase the amount of detail about and understanding of a topic.

Gearhead: Someone with a technical background.

Guerilla marketing: Unconventional promotional strategy.

Honor code: Agreement that some schools require of students -- normally along the lines of "I promise not to lie, cheat, or steal."

Incentivize: To motivate.

IPO (Initial Public Offering): The first sale of stock by a company to the public.

M&A (Mergers & Acquisitions): When companies merge, or when one company acquires another.

Out-of-the-box: New way of looking at and thinking about a problem.

Patent: The exclusive right, granted by the government, to make use of an invention or process for a specific period of time, usually 14 years.

Quant jock: Someone with an analytical background whose strength is crunching numbers.

Quid pro quo: A Latin term meaning "one thing for another thing." An exchange of favors: You do something for someone, he or she does something for you.

Red herring: When an irrelevant topic is presented to divert attention from the important one at hand.

Return on investment (ROI): A measurement used in financial analysis to judge the rate of return on all sources of long-term capital.

Run the numbers: Perform a thorough quantitative analysis.

Sarbanes-Oxley: Complex set of U.S. accounting procedures put in place in 2002 after a series of corporate scandals.

Sexy: Adjective for a business deal or concept that has special appeal because it's new, exciting, and different.

Soft skills: Nonanalytical skills such as conflict resolution, leadership, and communication.

Stickiness: A Web site's ability to keep users from leaving.

Synergy: The effective combination of two or more actions or projects.

Takeaway: Key point(s) of a meeting or analysis.

Takeover: Acquiring control over a corporation; may be hostile or friendly.

Value added: An enhancement to a product or service that increases its value to the consumer.

General Slang Terms

Blown away by: Amazed.

BYOB: Bring your own beverage.

Chill out or chill: To relax or calm down.

Crack me up: To inspire laughter.

Deer in the headlights: Frozen, caught off-guard, or taken by surprise.

Geek: An intelligent but socially inept person (see also "Nerd").

Hitting on all cylinders: When a car is running smoothly. In business, when a company is functioning properly.

Hole in the wall: Either an Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) or an unattractive establishment, usually a restaurant.

Nerd: Intelligent, obsessive, and socially inept person. Usually associated with computers or other technical pursuits (see also "Geek").

Screw up: To ruin or mess up.

Terms from Sports

Ballpark: Literally, the stadium where a baseball game is played. In business, to give a rough estimate.

Crunch time: Part of a game where the result is still yet to be determined, characterized by extreme pressure. In business, a time when each decision is critical to the final success or failure of an operation.

Hole-in-one: Golf term where the player scores perfectly on a hole. In business, where a successful deal is made on the first try.

Play hardball: In sports, playing with a harder and more dangerous ball. In business, to get tough.

Touchdown: To score in American football. Think of it like a goal in soccer. In business, a great success.

Turf: In sports, the surface of a playing field, similar to grass. In business, the territory or area of responsibility and authority.

Governmental, Trade, and Labor Organizations

AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations): Organization of labor unions to help increase the rights of workers.

EPA (Environmental Protection Agency): Government agency to protect human health and the environment

FCC (Federal Communications Commission): Government agency regulating interstate and international communication television, radio, wire, satellite, and cable.

FDA (Food & Drug Administration): Government public health organization regulating drugs, biological products, medical devices, food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.

FTC (Federal Trade Commission): Government agency founded to protect consumers and encourage fair trade.

NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement): A trade agreement between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico established to create jobs and raise living standards in North America.

SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission): Government organization regulating securities markets like the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.

Teamsters (International Brotherhood of Teamsters): One of the largest and most powerful labor unions in the U.S.

U. S. Supreme Court: Highest court in the judicial branch of the U.S. government.

List compiled from interviews with current and former international students, current administrators, and glossaries from Vanderbilt and Stanford universities. Gangemi is a reporter for BusinessWeek Online in New York


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