May 18, 2012 · 2 minutes

Every industry has its own esoteric vernacular (Pow! Suck on my English degree, bitches!), but Silicon Valley's reaches a whole new level of douchery. Even at the best of times, Valley-speak can be impossible for the layperson to comprehend. Having just returned to the East Coast after a month in the Bay Area on a work mission, I'm particularly sensitive to such insider talk and, especially, feeling like an outsider when hearing it.

So, probable layperson, I’m going to help you out. Here’s a handy glossary for some of the buzziest words and terms that seep awkwardly from the Valley's linguistic cracks.

Iteration: The banal result of repeated actions. As in, “This iteration comes loaded with new features!” which in human terms means, “We added some new shit to our old shit."

Escape velocity: A term stolen from physics and bastardized to mean the point at which a company has become stable enough to be profitable all on its own, perhaps even to the extent where it can go public. So while normal people say “It’s a successful business,” Valleywags say “The business has reached escape velocity." Upon doing so, said business turns into a ball of fire.

Pivot: A nifty code word that allows startups to clothe failure in the garb of strategic change, typically bankrolled by over-eager investors.

Scalable: A business’s ability to get bigger without dying or sucking. Synonym: amplifiable. Antonym: Yahoo.

Software as a service: This means exactly the same thing as “on-demand software” or “pay as you go software,” but that's too easy. Better to slap the SaaS label on it so the doucheoisie can feel like they’re talking about something too important for plebs to comprehend.

Commerce as a service: Alright, so I kind of get “software as a service,” but “the activity of buying and selling as a service”? That’s pushing it. What’s next? “Service as a service”? Earlier in the week, NetSuite used this term when it launched its new SuiteCommerce product, promising cross-platform ecommerce tools for businesses. They could have just said “obscure new cloud offering,” but, hey, funky acronym!

Social graph: Something made up by Facebook to make its friend network sound impressive.

Open graph: See above, but add in connections to other websites.

Lean startup: A new term that makes cash-poor startups sound less like “No-one in their right mind would invest in us” and more like “marathon-runner sexy."

Orthogonal: A mathematical term previously used only by Archimedes that specifically means “involving right angles” but in Valley speak means “kind of independent?” Example one: “The threat to Facebook will be orthogonal.” Example two: “I am deeply aroused by the orthogonality of your elbows.”

Brother-preneurs: Okay, so this might not be that widespread, but a PR person once pitched me a story using this term, so I just have to stomp on its gullet before it gets a chance to breathe. Also in this category: edupreneurmompreneurwantrepreneuryoung womenpreneur, Muslim-preneur, and stranglemequietlypreneur.

SoLoMo: A buzzy favorite, this camelcase delight refers to the three things that will solve any Internet business’s problems: social, local, mobile. Add it to your slide deck today. Luckily, these three terms apply by default to every Internet business started within the last 12 months.

Big data: Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of data. To the power of lots of data.

Optimize: Make gooder.

Tune in next week for a guide to deciphering a term sheet.*

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]

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