We say some weird things in the corporate world. Some are more laughable than others, and the expression “run it up the flagpole” certainly qualifies. In my continuing not-very-hard-hitting-but-hopefully-entertaining strategy of finding people who are far, far away from the corporate world and asking them to define some of the corporate expressions we lob around on a daily basis, I recently directed some questions to my mom and a group of retired school teachers. That poll yielded some funny responses, so I have decided to boldly take this up a notch and insert myself into the strange and certainly less “journalistically” safe world of adolescence. Why not, I thought. If I’m bold enough to make up the word “journalistically” I might just have what it takes to survive talking to adolescents. And what better way to get perspective on the weird language we use in the corporate world than from a group of tweener girls and the weird language they use?  I happened to listen in on a tweener phone call the other day when I was transporting my niece to her house and understood nothing they were saying.  Maybe we could have a contest to see whose language is weirder.  Or maybe we could learn something from each other.  Either way, we’ve got nothing to lose.

The expression I chose to ask them about was one of my fan favorites:  “Run it up the flagpole.”  I figure that tweeners go to schools where there are flagpoles, so maybe this might be something to which they could relate.  So here we go.  What did my 12 year old tweener niece’s five best friends have to say when I asked them what “run it up the flagpole” meant?

  1. Run it up the flagpole“Like as in ‘running?’ I don’t know. Does it have to do with running laps on a field where there is a flag?”
  2. “Can I go home and ask my parents?  They’d probably know. They talk about work at dinner sometimes and I don’t always know what they are talking about.”
  3. “Does it have something to do with like climbing a pole? Oh but you said that people say this at his work, right? I don’t think they are climbing up poles at work. I don’t even like doing it in P.E.”
  4. “This isn’t as much fun as talking about boys.”
  5. “Does it mean to go ask for something?

Run it Up the Flagpole – So what does it really mean?

Well how about that?  Friend #5 got surprisingly close.  We’ve definitely got a budding corporate shark on our hands.  And now to the actual definition of this strange term when used by corporate-types:

Run it up the Flagpole:  “To test the popularity of a new idea or proposal.”  The complete phrase is “…run something up the flagpole to see who salutes” but has been shortened to simply”…run something up the flagpole.”


The irony in this expression is that most people – tweeners and full grown corporate adults – probably  don’t really know why we’ve chosen a flagpole to run something up since, in the interest of brevity, we’ve abandoned maybe the most important part of the phrase – the part at the end that makes it actually make sense.  I certainly didn’t know until I looked it up.  Amazing what you can learn from writing a blog about tweeners and weird corporate expressions.

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