December 18, 2007

#01-050: Office Animals - Part I: Veeps and Gofers

people working closely together in a small office
Is one of these people a bean counter? Or a pencil pusher?

Note: White-collar types come in many types, from "office boys" and secretaries to top executives. Inthis lesson and the nexty, we'll look at nicknames for all kinds of "office animals."

Get Ready: What sounds like an exciting job in an office? What sounds like a boring one? Is there any office job you would like to have?

There are some strange creatures running around in the office! Here are the ten such animals, in alphabetical order, with brief explanations:

  1. bean counter: This is a term for someone who cuts costs in an operation, often an accountant or auditor. The term is mildly derogatory. One story (probably apocryphal) is that an airline accountant realized that, if the company put one less bean on every salad served to passengers, they would save thousands of dollars a year.

  2. gofer: This is a low-level employee who runs errands. His or her job is to "go for" things: gofer this and gofer that!

  3. headhunter: Somebody who recruits executives for companies. It's a kind of joke: The original meaning of "headhunter" was a warrior who cut off heads as trophies! But now it's one who "hunts" for the "heads"--that is leaders--of organizations.

  4. high roller: Originally this was a gambler who played for high stakes (often foolishly). Now it can mean an extravagant person (if negative). Or positively, it means "one who takes risks for high rewards." This is considered a benefit in many companies, where calculated risk-taking is a valuable strategy.

  5. number cruncher: Another uncomplimentary word for an accountant. "Crunching numbers" refers to doing a lot of calculations.

  6. pencil pusher: Usually a clerk or bookkeeper who keeps records, involving a lot of writing. Again, this is a fairly derogatory term.

  7. rainmaker: Amongst Native Americans, a priest or shaman who could make the rain come was a highly-valued member of the tribe. Now, we use the term to describe people who can "make things happen" for an organization. They are also called "movers and shakers."

  8. troubleshooter: One whose specialty is finding the source of a problem and solving or eliminating it. This is naturally a valuable contribution to a company.

  9. veep: A pronunciation of the letters "V.P.," meaning "Vice President"

  10. whistleblower: An informer. He or she sees some wrongdoing or corruption in an organization, and informs the authorities or the public. You would expect that the person would be fired for this. In fact, there are laws protecting whistleblowers in the U.S., but it's still very risky.


Read more:

Practice: Use each of the above terms in one of the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form.

  1. I don't know what's wrong with our computer system; maybe we can get a __________ in here.
  2. Some __________ called me last week and offered me a management job in another company.
  3. Our sales are low; we need a __________ to come in and get things going.
  4. If the __________ had their way, we would never spend money on small gifts for our employees.
  5. When our company's leader is sick, the __________ is in charge.
  6. The new department head takes a lot of risks; she's kind of a __________.
  7. No one was surprised when the __________ was fired for disloyalty.
  8. The __________ were very busy when the year-end books had to be balanced.
  9. My office needs lots of things picked up and delivered, so we hired another __________.
  10. I think his job is boring; he's just a __________ who spends all day filling in forms.

Answers with correct forms (singular or plural) are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 18, 2007

This lesson received 260 visits on my old site between December, 2011, and June, 2021.

1 comment:

  1. 1. (h) troubleshooter; 2. (c) headhunters; 3. (g) rainmaker; 4. (a) bean counters; 5. (i) veep; 6. (d) high roller; 7. (j) whistleblower; 8. (e) number crunchers; 9. (b) gofer; 10. (f) pencil pusher