American businesses speak another language.

Instead of laying off employees, they “rightsize.” When they run out of time, they make a “hard stop.” And common sense becomes “best practices.”

What does it matter to you? A lot, actually.

Behind the corporate-speak, companies can hide their true intentions. Understand what they’re saying and you can be a smarter consumer.

Here are a few key words to know:

Bandwidth: A term for resources, specifically time. When someone mentions limited bandwidth, it has nothing to do with high-speed connectivity. “I don’t have the bandwidth for that” means they’re too busy for you.

Consumer-centric: Synonym for “we love our customers” meaning “we will do whatever it takes to please you.” If it’s used in your presence, it’s probably just the opposite. Time to walk out — or close your browser.

Dirty pool: Commonly used to describe the unethical business practices of a competitor. If someone is calling out a rival for “dirty pool” you know there’s trouble.

Outside the box: A clichéd way of describing what’s probably an unsanctioned resolution to a problem. It usually has nothing to do with the packaging or the way it’s produced.

Ping: An Internet-derived term for checking in or reminding you of something. Pinging is not as indecent as it sounds. It’s what you do when you remind your boss or friend he forgot something. You ping your coworkers, but not your customers.

Transparent: Another word for “open and honest.” In the rare instance when a business shows you the price it’s paying for the product – in other words, its actual cost – it’s being transparent.

Sustainable: Outside the business world, sustainable means “environmentally friendly”—something that can be reused in another product, giving it a second or third life. However, within corporate society, it’s the business that is being “sustained.” Be sure that brands explain which one they mean when referring to a product as “sustainable.”

Win-win: A common term that says you and the business both benefit from the transaction. However, a true “win-win” is rare. Most are “win-lose” transactions. And guess who loses? It’s not the company.

Spend any amount of time visiting corporate headquarters and speaking with executives and it’s clear that those folks see us differently from the way we see ourselves. It is all too easy to objectify people who are customers, referring to them as “sales” or “prospects.”

That’s all the more reason to learn their language. We may catch them referring to us in the most unflattering way right in front of us. If you’re doing business with an ethical, transparent, company that holds your definition of win-win, they’ll talk about you like the respected customer you are.

And if they aren’t? You know what to do.

(Photo: Shriking T Ree/Flickr)