Microspeak: Action on

I have been fortunate to have been spared exposure to this particular corner of Microspeak, but others have not been so lucky.

Have you actioned on this ask?

It's not clear whether actioning on something means that you've started it or you've finished it. As a result, this is another case of using jargon to impede communication.

The inventors of this particular form of Microspeak must be proud of themselves, for not only have they verbed a noun, they coupled it with an unnecessary preposition. But they aren't content to stop there. It wasn't long before the noun that got verbed got re-nouned!

Here is our list of action-ons.

The obfuscation is now complete. Nobody knows whether this is a list of things they want to do, a list of things for which management has given their approval, a list of things for which work has begun, or a list of things which have been completed! The only thing that is clear from that sentence is that there's a list of some sort.

And I'm sure they're working on obfuscating that, too.

Comments (30)
  1. MadQ says:

    How about:

    "Here is what I’ve Exceled for our action-ons broken down by ask."

    And I shan’t even mention all the inappropriate comments that came to mind upon reading "action-ons".

  2. Not bad as far as jargon goes.

    "Have you actioned on this ask?" => "Have you acted on this ask?"

    "Here is our list of action-ons." => "Here is our list of things to take action on."


    Top-hole. Bally Jerry, pranged his kite right in the how’s-your-father; hairy blighter, dicky-birded, feathered back on his sammy, took a waspy, flipped over on his Betty Harpers and caught his can in the Bertie.

  3. Chriso says:

    Hmm…i think it means if you have already finished an ask, because if you can get a list of "action-ons" it suggests that "action-ons" are things (asks :-) which need to get done. (Although i would really want to know if someone ever got asked if he or she is currently actioning-on an ask).

    However, sometimes i really wonder if there is a seperate department at Microsoft, doing nothing else then inventing Microspeak to improve umm…the art of obfuscating an conversation?

  4. actively says:

    How about forming Aksh Anon, a support group for persons who action on, but are trying to quit?

  5. This one has made my day! It has been the laugh I needed. It’s almost as surrealistic as a Dalí painting. If it weren’t as comical as it is, it would be sad. And I think it’s really worrying, in any case.

  6. mikeb says:

    Er, I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you, Maurits.

  7. Eric says:

    Action On!  Apply directly to the fore-action.

    Action On!  Apply directly to the fore-action.

    Action On!  Apply directly to the fore-action.

    [Hilarious. (Video of commercial for those who don’t get the reference.) -Raymond]
  8. Mike Dunn says:

    My guess is that this was derived from "action item" (something someone needs to do) and/or the Microspeak meaning of "actionable" (something that can be worked on).

    "Have you actioned-on this ask?" could mean "Have you given yourself/selves a task to work on this request?"

    "Our list of action-ons" could then mean "The list of tasks we’re working on."

  9. Ian Johns says:

    Bill & Ted were known to "Action on, duuudes!"

  10. Tim Dawson says:

    One more thing is clear from that sentence: that the perpetrators should be fired.

  11. Jeffrey Min says:

    Could this have come from Windows Mobile land? Windows Mobile devices have an Action button in the middle of the d-pad.  To "action on" an item is to press the Action button while the item has the keyboard focus.

  12. Philip says:

    The people commenting with "it seems clear that this means …."   or "it could mean …"   Just point to the worst possible problem:

    That is – everyone who hears the phrase is certain they know what the speaker meant by it ("it’s obvious and clear!") regardless of if they actually do or not.  Perhaps the speaker didn’t even understand what he meant.

    This is worse than the (still bad) outcome of realizing you don’t know what the speaker meant, but being too timid to ask.

  13. Ken Hagan says:

    The next step, presumably, is for "action-on" to become a verb so that we can ask…

    "Have you action-on-ed this ask?"

    Alternatively, the idiots responsible may turn their *own* tongues inside out (rather than the English tongue) and choke to death. We can but hope.

  14. Fry says:

    In the Army, we get briefed on "Actions On" – what to do in the event if.

    For example: "Actions on flat tyre – pull over and replace"

    "Actions on accident – apply first aid"

    Are they sure they’re pluralising the term correctly?

  15. Sm says:

    To work at Microsoft you have to relax English a lot. I wonder if many of those new "words", come easy once you just let it go.

    Also I’ve noticed that turnaround of new vocabulary is quite big and renaming things gives illusion of action.

  16. J says:

    ‘What’s your ask?’ has made it out into the hinterlands from Mission Control.

    When I heard it recently, I replied with


  17. Worf says:

    @Jeffrey Min: Maybe. Though the ac5ion button is just VK_ACTION, which I think is just #defined as VK_ENTER or VK_RETURN.

    Or was it VK_CENTER?

    Been awhile. I’ve been on WinCE. Better the 5-minute makeimg than the 1-hour one. At least Image Update is nowhere to be seen in CE 6, though it was in the prerelease slides.

  18. Sir Digby Chicken Ceasar says:

    In the (UK) armed forces, ‘Actions On X’ is short hand for ‘What should be done in the event X happens’.

    Be suprised if the people using it were aware of that though…

  19. Dale says:

    I think it’s got more to do with being in the "in" crowd.


    I think your banter is broken, my old china.

  20. tsilb says:

    Wow, verbing does wierd language!

  21. Bezalel says:

    I don’t think this originated at Microsoft. The Jargon File clearly states that all nouns can be verbed and that all verbs can be nouned. It is in the section titled Overgeneralization.

  22. In the immortal words of Calvin: "Verbing weirds language." And nouning too, as demonstrated.

  23. eff Five says:


    I think it patently absurd to suggest that an entire department would exist for such a purpose. Especially when each group should be able to leverage their own

    Distinguished Multilatering Obfuscationer

  24. Paul Williams says:

    "Have you started this task?"

    "Here is our task list."


  25. Brian Tkatch says:

    "Have you actioned on this ask?"

    Actually, it’s an anagram:

    Hi, aced notion to shave us, kay?

    I *think* it refers to people who were up all night, who are too tired to speak, but need to get ready for an important meeting by having the famous shave an’ coffee.

  26. KenW says:

    @Eric: Excellent! (Except you brought to mind the annoyance that was that commercial. <g>)

  27. dave says:

    My contributed Microspeak observation:

    "Ballot screen" = "user interface that allows you to choose something".

    Apparently we’re not going to just select what we want anymore, we’re going to *vote* for it.

    Attempting to topic-on:

    I hope we’ll be reminded that we need to action-on on browser-balloting.

  28. pressanykey says:

    Have to agree with Sir Digby (your lordship) this is still standard speck in the UK military, at least as far as gunnery training (Tanks) is concerned…

    Action On Stoppage etc.

    [You’re both missing the distinction that in the UK military usage, “action” is being used as a noun. “Action on stoppage” is shorthand for “the action to take on the event of stoppage”. But in Microspeak, “action” is being used as a verb. Or does the UK military also say “Actioning on stoppage”? -Raymond]
  29. pressanykey says:

    @Raymond, yes silly us. Your right, we missed the distinction. Microspeak *IS* wierd ;-)

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