Microspeak: Leverage


At Microsoft, leverage is not a term of physics whereby a force can be magnified by the application of mechanical advantage. It is also not a term of finance whereby the power of a small amount of money can be magnified by the assumption of debt. In fact, at Microsoft, the word leverage isn't even a noun. It is a verb: to leverage, leverages, leveraging, leveraged, has leveraged. Oh, and it has nothing to do with magnification.

Here are some citations:

How do I leverage a SiteMap?

Allow advertising partners to leverage this resource for providing targeted advertising links.

Leverage existing design to power other designs

Do we have documents on how Windows 95 can leverage Windows 2000 Active Directory?

At Microsoft, to leverage means to take advantage of, or in many cases, simply to use.

Verbal use of the word leverage appears to be popular outside of Microsoft as well, such as this headline from eWeek: How to Leverage IT to Speed RandD Innovation.

But can you do this: At Microsoft you can leverage people.

Alice, does Bob perform any component-Foo testing? Charles can be leveraged to actually execute tests if Donald can drive him with these asks. Let me know.

That snippet was a whirlwind of Microspeak, with the passive form of the verb to leverage, plus to drive and the plural noun asks.

Comments (25)
  1. David Walker says:

    "Charles can be leveraged"???  Wow, that one is strange.  If Donald is driving him with asks, that sounds vaguely naughty.

  2. Leo Davidson says:

    I've never understood why people don't use 'lever' as the verb. e.g. "Use a crowbar to lever open the container."

    Leverage sounds like the amount of power that a lever can lever something.

    Apparently using 'leverage' as a verb dates back decades/centuries (I looked it up once, trying to find out who was to blame, and was surprised) but I don't remember hearing it regularly until the late 90s.

  3. Rob263 says:

    I bet this game would go over great at MS: http://www.bullshitbingo.net/…/bullshit

    You get a bingo card with buzzwords/microspeak, and whenever anyone says a word on your card in a meeting, you check it off.  First one to get a bingo wins!

  4. Danny Moules says:

    By definition, leverage should be NOT a verb. To level is a verb. Adding '-age' at the end of that verb explicitly transforms it into a noun. You 'lever' a 'leverage'. You don't 'leverage' a 'leverage'.

    Explained much better here: smyword.com/…/are-you-stupid-enough-to-use-leverage-as-a-verb

    "Apparently using 'leverage' as a verb dates back decades/centuries" This is related to the financial use of the term. It, however, did not create the catchall verb that has become commonplace in business. That was 'no doubt' re-purposed by managers trying to confuse and bamboozle their clients – and then adopted as a general term by those clients or others at the meeting who didn't understand this was a completely made-up term.

  5. Danny Moules says:

    Alternatively it could be the genuine use of the finance term in a business context in 'repurposing' financial risk… and then misused by the aforementioned clueless dolts at the aforementioned meetings.

  6. Robert Fulcrum says:

    I don't mean to pry, but do you think we could leverage this?

  7. Maurits says:

    Well, now that leverage is a verb, it induces the new noun "leveragables".  As in, "Alice's takeway is to drive a list of 'asks and leveragables' for project Foo".

  8. Grease says:

    "Could you please dedicate some cycles or champion a resource to re-ask this ask, leveraging some semblance of standard English?"

  9. Peon says:

    I've always wondered whether my refusal to use Microspeak is one of those dubious "career limiting moves". I talk about questions, not "asks". I skip "leverage", shun "utilize", and just say "use". I say "I agree" or not. "Bandwidth" is a term for networks: if I don't have time for something, I say I don't have "time".

    I don't seem any worse off so far.

  10. David Walker says:

    @Peon:  You passed up a great opportunity to use the under-used word "eschew".

  11. Toddsa says:

    Mirospeak is an odd phenomenon since a large majority of employees at Microsoft attended college. English even applied incorrectly becomes acceptable and correct if used and accepted by enough people over time. Who knows in another 50 years maybe some Mircospeak will start to show up in text books.

    Has anyone raised a hand in a meeting and proclaimed "Uh, I don't believe you are using the term correctly. Do you really want me to leverage Charles?"

  12. Phil says:

    @Rob263 – I used to work at MS.  My first company meeting, in 1992, had buzzword bingo ;-)  It was funny to actually hear someone YELL OUT bingo at the meeting!  

  13. Eber Irigoyen says:

    really? I've been using "leverage" this way for a long time LOL

  14. Eber Irigoyen says:

    really? I've been using "leverage" this way for a long time J

  15. rsola says:

    Archimedes is probably turning in his grave.

  16. Commenter says:

    @Ramon Sola: Why? I think he's happy seing how much leverage is produced today.

  17. Troll says:

    Use in sentence: Microsoft leverages IE9 to boost Windows 7 sales.

  18. Gabe says:

    Troll: Considering that levers are actually used to boost things, I would have to argue that "Microsoft leverages IE9 to boost Windows 7 sales." is proper usage of the term rather than Microspeak, even if the lever is metaphorical rather than physical in this case.

  19. Worf says:

    You know, I've been conditioned by this blog on Microspeak, yet a month and a half ago a Microsoft guy used ask in the Microspeak way ("Is this an ask for me?") and I was stunned.

    Adding to that was I've interacted with him for 2 years prior and I never saw him say that.

    Thank $DIETY for this blog. And even prepared, it can be a shock when you encounter it in the wild.

  20. Morten says:

    @Maurits & Grease (awesome name for a rock group btw): don't push it, you just might achieve what the LHC hasn't yet: creating a black hole that'll eat the planet. There are things that man was not meant to utter… Cthulhu fhtagn.

  21. Slugsie says:

    It's not just Microspeak that uses leverage in that way. I worked for EDS (now HP) and the use of leverage as a verb was prevalent, and I hated it. I took on a personal rule that any email I received that contained such b*stardisation of the Queens English was to be completely ignored. That one action drastically cut down the level of BS that comes through my inbox.

  22. ErikF says:

    @Slugsie:

    That method works great until your boss sends you smomething written in bureaucratese. Replying with "I'm sorry, I only speak English" doesn't help and can be seen as a CLM :(

  23. Sander1981 says:

    @Danny Moules: "re-purposed"

    Isn't that a verb that means "give a new purpose to"? ;)

  24. dave says:

    Microsoft employees leverage neologisms to uprate their salary ask.

  25. V says:

    Actually Mr.Chen, this idiom predates Microsoft. Perhaps not common in the States, but quite common in other places.

    [Microspeak is not only words and phrases exclusive to Microsoft, but also words and phrases used significantly more often at Microsoft than in the language in general. -Raymond]

Comments are closed.