Learning the Workplace Vocabulary | The Washington Center

Learning the Workplace Vocabulary

Every workplace has its own distinct language. Whether its the complex scientific vocabulary of a chemical lab or the broad euphemisms of an advertising agency, the words people use (and their contextual interpretations) vary accordingly. Just as the space in which we employ different phrases creates their definitions, the internalization of those definitions often times dictates our perspectives and identities. Our vocabularies are both landscapes and self-portraits, and our professions and hobbies form the varied colors on the palette.



As an intern, it’s important to be cognizant of your workplace’s language as you communicate with your fellow staff. Parroting some common colloquialisms is a helpful way to establish yourself as part of the team. On a more introspective level, certain words that resonate with you can serve as a sort of guidepost along your path of professional development. I rarely think before I speak, but I’ve started getting into the habit of reflecting on things already said. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to evaluate some of the words that get thrown around 1776.



During my first week on the job, I shared desk space with an entrepreneur named Prashant. He is a friendly guy, and we quickly struck up a conversation. One of the first questions he asked me was, “So, what are you disrupting?” The question took me a little by surprise, and if I remember correctly, I responded with something sheepish along the lines of “I’m just an intern.” Still, the question really captures the startup mentality. The world of enterprise is dominated by existing businesses who have a distinct way of doing things. In order to succeed, an entrepreneur must offer an alternative. Business creation is an exercise in conflict, a constant fight against entrenched forces. In this vein of thought, the intern should be the most radical member of a workforce.



This term is synonymous with entrepreneur, but it holds a greatly different connotation. Entrepreneur immediately brings to mind “business,” which makes sense because that’s exactly what they do. These days, however, “business” implies an amoral approach that doesn’t allow for any innovation. Maker, on the other hand, is a much more humanist word. It empowers those who hold the title to harness their creativity and individuality in order to gather a following and impact the world. Startups become a product of expression that have the potential to effect social change, instead of simply a profit-making scheme. It’s important to keep in mind that business and entrepreneurship are two sides of the same coin, a coin that has the ability to help or harm no matter how it lands.



Startup ecosystems refer to the entire package of entrepreneurial talent, working space and access to capital that combines to make business happen. Again, this term seeks to reframe the classic notion of “business” as a sterile activity represented by crisp suits and immaculate lobbies. This vein of language depicts the entrepreneur as ingrained in nature: a gardener who’s not afraid to get their hands dirty. On the funding side, investors take on a similar role: “We enable makers by providing seed capital and a nurturing work environment.” I made that up, but it wouldn’t be out of place on any “About” section on the website of an incubator.




This term is particularly popular around 1776 (no surprise there), and it’s also the one I have the most trouble with. Calling the new wave of entrepreneurship a revolution implies that this is an entirely new way of operating a business and that there is a certain righteousness to what entrepreneurs are doing. Both claims are a little problematic. First, the mechanics behind beginning a business have not changed at all since the 1980s. While opportunities have expanded and multiplied around the world, the process remains the same. The space is still exclusive, reserved for the well-educated and well-connected. Second, righteousness necessitates representation of a wide range of voices. Its hard to say you are taking the moral path when you only speak for a small percentage of the population. Granted, the issues surrounding access are largely systemic, and many entrepreneurs here incorporate aspects of social responsibility into their business models hoping to create more good in the world. I just think that it’s difficult to have a complete view of the global situation from the back of a “revolutionary” high horse.


Event of the Week: The Board RoomI haven't been getting out too much in the past couple weeks, but this was a nice Friday night break. The Board Room is a fun spot near Dupont Circle where you can rent out games for as long as you like. They have some classic board games like Sorry!, Monopoly and Clue, along with some more complex strategy games along the lines of Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. I went with my friend Reuben, and we ended up playing a few rounds of Ticket to Ride, a game that places you in the turn of the century as a train magnate trying to expand your routes across the continental U.S. I'm definitely trying to go back.

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