35

I’m looking for a derogatory term for a person who works in a big, international business.

In Polish we have a few informal words for that, like korpoludek (“corpo little guy”) and korpoczłowiek (“corpo man”).

There are also offensive terms, like (for women only) korposuka (“corpo bitch”), but I’m not looking for equivalents of that.


Edit after DevSolar comment:

I’m pointing at the following characteristics: boring, repetitious, and mindless work, and insignificance of the person.

However — just to be specific — the Polish terms I mentioned have broader meaning.

9
  • 1
    I've heard "middle-management suck-up". Particularly obsequious ladder-climbers at any level can be called "brown-nosers" (you can guess what that's about). Feb 16, 2015 at 8:32
  • 1
    It would be helpful if you could elaborate on what part of the person's existence you'd like to point at. That he's not self-employed? That he's just a small redundant cogwheel in a big mechanism? Something else?
    – DevSolar
    Feb 16, 2015 at 12:50
  • 1
    For managerial levels I've been known to use the noun "manglement".
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 16, 2015 at 17:22
  • 7
    you're looking for 'Corporate Stooge' buddy. Heard a mate say it and it stuck ever since. Feb 17, 2015 at 11:15
  • 4
    "Human Resource" (only half kidding).
    – eckes
    Feb 18, 2015 at 20:43

28 Answers 28

116

You could try drone:-

A person who does tedious or menial work; a drudge: "undervalued drones who labored in obscurity" (Caroline Bates).

if you wanted to emphasize the drudgery and hopelessness of the individual, or perhaps a wage-slave

A wage earner whose livelihood is completely dependent on the wages earned.

to emphasize the helplessness of the individual, or a droid:-

A mobile robot or automaton, especially one that resembles a human.

if you wanted to emphasize any mindlessness that might be involved.

(All these from the Free Dictionary).

5
  • 51
    Corporate drone is quite usual with this meaning, indeed.
    – Gorpik
    Feb 16, 2015 at 9:00
  • 5
    Slightly different, perhaps, but also fitting the question is (corporate) sheep. Feb 16, 2015 at 9:42
  • 11
    Salaryman, but it might be tied to Japanese culture and males. Feb 16, 2015 at 11:06
  • 3
    @JonasG.Drange - My understanding was that salaryman was usually not derogatory in Japanese culture. Having a good stable job was something to strive for - something parents want for their children.
    – Telastyn
    Feb 18, 2015 at 16:01
  • 1
    Inverted in the classic haiku: Worker bees can leave / Even drones can fly away / The Queen is their slave Feb 19, 2015 at 17:32
64

As a British native speaker, I would have thought that "suit" or "corporate suit" would be a derogatory term to describe someone who works in a large international business corporation. Emphasizing that the person is instantly replaceable and anonymous, nothing more than the suit they are wearing.

Edit: Just thought, in the same vein, I've also heard "empty suit" in this connection.

14
  • 15
    +1, related: Is the word “suit” offensive (meaning “corporate-looking person”)? (tldr; it's mostly slangy, can be derogatory depending on context, but isn't necessarily derogatory automatically - e.g. it's neutral when used to describe the people who handle the business side of a project as opposed to those who handle production) Feb 16, 2015 at 13:46
  • 14
    "Suit" is all about context. It often does not have derogatory meaning.
    – Preston
    Feb 16, 2015 at 16:33
  • 7
    "Hey TonyArra, have you finished that copy for the new ad yet? I need to run it by the suits before it goes to the printer." It can be a completely neutral identifier for a layer of management above an operating team.
    – Preston
    Feb 16, 2015 at 22:44
  • 6
    +2 @Preston Fitzgerald - I agree. the meaning of "a suit" is highly contextual, not always derogatory, often merely dismissive, sometimes completely neutral.
    – user98990
    Feb 16, 2015 at 23:52
  • 6
    Quite aside from how derogatory it is or can be, I second the commenters above saying that this doesn’t seem to fit the question, because it’s specifically associated with management.
    – PLL
    Feb 17, 2015 at 15:34
63

OP seeks an answer that satisfies the following 4 criteria:

1. a derogatory term or expression

2. for a low-level employee ["insignificance of the person"]

3. of a large international corporation

4. whose work is boring, repetitious and mindless ["following characteristics: boring, repetitious and mindless work"]

MINION noun: plural noun: minions: a follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one.

synonyms: underling, flunky, lackey, servant, hireling, vassal, stooge, toady, sycophant

from Google link

enter image description here

common N. American minion

8
  • We used this one years ago. Feb 17, 2015 at 15:06
  • 2
    @Walter Mitty - For pity, Mr. Mitty, whatever do you mean?
    – user98990
    Feb 17, 2015 at 15:13
  • 1
    Just that this same term, "minion" was in use in my circle a long time ago. I gave a +1 for this answer, for what it's worth. Feb 17, 2015 at 19:03
  • Yes, right back at ya with that +1, @Walter Mitty - I didn't understand your reference to "We ..." so I binged you with some poetry. Glad to finally meet you. You're rather famous in my circle. ;-) Thank you for your upvote!
    – user98990
    Feb 17, 2015 at 19:11
  • 1
    I was completely forgotten until they made that danged movie! Feb 17, 2015 at 20:48
27

As was suggested in a comment by @DevSolar, consider cog

A subordinate member of an organization who performs necessary but usually minor or routine functions.

American Heritage

Oxford Dictionaries Online uses cog with this meaning as part of a phrase

a cog in the (or a) machine (or wheel): A small or insignificant member of a larger organization or system: copywriters have been seen as just a cog in the big advertising machine

14

Japanese has a great word for this "Sararīman" — salaryman.

The media often portray the salaryman in negative fashion for lack of initiative and originality. Because of this portrayal, communities may be less willing to help the salaryman with his emotional problems, which often leads to clinical depression or even suicide. —Wikipedia

0
9

You could consider wage slave,perhaps in a slightly less than literal sense.

4
  • DV: care to comment?
    – Chris H
    Feb 16, 2015 at 14:49
  • I wasn't the one who downvoted it, but Brian Hooper's answer, posted at about the same time, includes "wage-slave". Feb 16, 2015 at 18:17
  • 1
    @espertus, that's true when rounded to the hour (though my post ID is earlier if I understand correctly). I'd never downvote even a shorter answer unless there was a clear gap. If that's the reason I don't really care though.
    – Chris H
    Feb 16, 2015 at 20:00
  • @LittleEva, wise council indeed.
    – Chris H
    Feb 17, 2015 at 15:01
9

Dogsbody :

  • Chiefly British Slang One who does menial work; a drudge.

Slang word for employee from a Bad Boss:

  • peon, slave, worker, inferior, staffer, gimp, blue-collar, laborer, subordinate, hand, wage earner, desk jockey, human resource, personnel, workforce, dogsbody, drudge, drone, foot soldier, plugger, grunt, grub, slogger, toiler, workhorse, coolie, porter, serf, lazybone, loafer, slouch, idler, slug, 9 to 5er, goldbrick, shirker, nobody, straggly, servant, bondman, insurgent, mutineer, revolter, chattel, thrall, indentured servant, domestic, lackey, handmaid, attendant, odalisque, helot, thrall, agnostic, discordant, fief, stooge, pillion, muppet, puppet, airhead, bimbo, derp, dingbat, doofus, clutz, nimrod, bozo, couch potato, creep, lush, mule, plank, pinhead, tool, twit, wasteman, minion, etc.
1
  • I particularly like 'peon' and 'grunt' Feb 21, 2015 at 6:14
8

In programming, we have a specific term for the shmoes who are stuck with the simplistic, repetitive, insignficant and mind-numbing programming work. Code Monkey.

There's even a Johnathan Coulton song all about their daily dreary lives.

2
  • a more sophisticated word would be software simion
    – user13267
    Feb 21, 2015 at 10:00
  • @user13267 "Software Simion like fritos" doesn't have the same ring.
    – Zibbobz
    Feb 21, 2015 at 15:01
8

There are great answers above, but one possible choice that hasn't been mentioned yet is the noun-form idiom working stiff.

_ _ _

Macmillan Dictionary defines the term as:

an ordinary person who works in order to earn enough money to live, usually at a very boring job

— — —

Endangered Phrases by Steven D. Price offers:

A hardworking employee. First heard in the 1930s, this phrase describes your average guy or gal who works at a not-very-interesting-or-stimulating job and for wages that mean a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. “Stiff” might have come from muscle fatigues at the end of the day or week, but it’s just as likely to be the slang word for “corpse,” which would reflect the idea of a working stiff in a dead-end job.

— — —

Now here's something interesting. Despite the claim of Endangered Phrases and other sources that the term was first used in the 1930s, I found the following definition in What’s What in the Labor Movement: A Dictionary of Labor Affairs and Labor Terminology, which was published in 1921:

A nickname commonly bestowed upon “casual” and “migratory” workers throughout the West—particularly members of the I. W. W. [Industrial Workers of the World], who themselves often thus designate their comrades. Probably the term has its origin in the earlier etymological sense of “stiff,” as synonymous with “strong,” “lusty,” etc.

Elsewhere in the same book, the I. W. W. (Industrial Workers of the World) is described as:

. . . a union of unskilled workers in large part employed in agriculture and in the production of raw materials. . . . [I]ts significance does not lie in organization or numbers, but in its aspect as a social phenomenon and in its power of enlisting the sympathies of the lower classes of workers in times of crisis.

While this reference suggests the term originally referred to unskilled physical laborers, it's easy to imagine how the meaning could've shifted gradually over the past century to include low-status office workers. A variation of the term that makes this more explicit is corporate stiff.

5
  • I love the expression working-stiff I have never heard it before. In BrEng a "stiff" is slang for a dead person. Could you include the dictionary definition(s)? Links may rot over time, and the best answers are self-contained.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 17, 2015 at 12:08
  • 1
    Same with jdmc's "working stiff", @Mari-Lou. It means "dead man working".
    – user98990
    Feb 17, 2015 at 12:16
  • 2
    Working stiff in my mind implies a blue-collar job, rather than the white-collar one implied by the question. And I usually hear it mostly used in a fairly positive light – for the person. An honest person doing an honest day’s work – but at a heartless and apathetic company. Much more derogatory towards the place of work than the person working there.
    – KRyan
    Feb 18, 2015 at 14:57
  • 1
    +1 @KRyan - I believe you are correct in your interpretation of "working stiff*. My personal experience led me to connote "stiff" with "dead person" in the sense that the experience of daily, unendingly repetitive drudgery can often be spiritually fatal or deadening and result in a man or woman who is but a shell of the person they once were or had the capacity to be. On the other hand I have met many who survive that type of work, spiritually and creatively--ie, with their essential humanity--intact. Thanks.
    – user98990
    Feb 19, 2015 at 6:10
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA: I completely rewrote this Answer with detailed definitions and even a historical perspective. Hope you like.
    – jdmc
    Feb 27, 2015 at 5:58
5

I worked for a company once that let me put whatever I wanted on my business card, so I put down as my job title "Replaceable Engineering Unit".

5

I'm surprised nobody's yet mentioned pen-pusher: (or pencil-pusher in the US)

  • a person who has an office job that is not interesting

  • a person with a clerical job involving a lot of tedious and repetitive paperwork

  • un-needed, bureaucratic employee not making any difference and hampering efficiency

4

"Paper pusher" would work too. Merriam-Webster defines it as "someone who does boring or unimportant work in an office."

1
  • 4
    Paper-pusher is a relatively recent AmE usage, virtually unknown in BrE (where the standard term is still pen-pusher) Feb 18, 2015 at 17:22
4

"Company man"/"Company's man" is a term I've heard used dismissively - as in: "Ask a company man a question, get a company answer" or "There's no point asking him, he's the company's man". Basically the meaning is someone who is hopelessly biased and unable to think for themselves.

3

"Corporate Monkey" is one that I have used/heard used quite a lot.

It comes from the term "circus monkey" which (obviously) came from the use of monkeys or chimps in the circus, performing tricks for the masters in order to get treats.

It has been adapted into the workplace, generally referring to people who are attempting to climb the corporate ladder, "performing tricks for the masters (the boss man) in order to get treats (raise/promotion)"

3

In the '90s Dilbert, among others, popularized1 2 the term cow-orker.

n. fortuitous typo for co-worker, widely used in Usenet, with perhaps a hint that orking cows is illegal.

2

How about a "corpo nobody"? Nobody(noun): a person of no importance, influence, or power.

2

The terms trog (short for "troglodyte") and pleb (short for "plebeian") can be useful here. They're derogatory terms used by higher-class individuals to refer to those in a lower class. When corporate structure turns into an office's social structure, it's very similar to the class-based systems found in larger-scale society.

2

Depending on the way it's going to be used, shill can be useful.

This is used in the context of an online forum, for example. If I work for MegaCorp Ltd then I might contribute to a programming forum by saying "solve your problem by installing XYZ product!" but if I don't mention that I work for MegaCorp, then I'm a shill.

2

Does "office plankton" fit your definition? Very common term in Russian, not sure if it exists in English (though UD knows about it):

A typical office worker, which usually has certain tasks assigned to them without hopes of getting a promotion or achieving something in his field.

1

Two that I didn't see on here yet: pencil pusher and bean counter. Usually the later referring to someone doing accounting or finance work. But I think both imply tedious underling work. Someone might refer to their CPA as a bean counter, though the position may pay well. But someone from another profession may still look down on the work as being mindless and tedious despite the pay (so beneath them for other reasons).

I think bean counter could also be used to distinguish underling roles at a large company from roles with more decision making power. For example those who are spending the companies money vs those who are adding up those people's receipts.

1

I have once asked a similar question (having in mind a Russian expression 'office plankton') and got several answers from native English speakers.

I guess the following have not been mentioned here:

gopher, dead wood, clock watcher, slacker, bottom feeder, office monkey, dilbert, desk jockey, cube dweller, chair warmer.

Link to exactly how those people replied is here.

0

dirty-white-collar can be used for the same. Refer to http://wordspy.com/index.php?word=dirty-white-collar

0

Also "cog" as in "a small gear in a large machine".

2
0

a wally or pointy hair from Dilbert

2
  • Hello a john. Perhaps you could flesh out your answer a little. Feb 21, 2015 at 1:08
  • The best of Pointy-Haired Boss You're free to edit your answer and include this link, if you think it's relevant.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 21, 2015 at 20:07
0

The first thing that came to my mind was

Lackey

"a servant, especially a liveried footman or manservant."

It doesn't exactly match the definition, but I think the "servant" aspect works quite well :P

It also has a nice derogatory ring to it!

2
  • 2
    Did you know that "Lackey" is a loanword from the Turkish Ulak (messenger)?
    – edgerunner
    Feb 21, 2015 at 16:27
  • @edgerunner, I did not! Fascinating :)
    – Bilal Akil
    Feb 22, 2015 at 0:10
-1

In South Africa we would call them a "Brass-knob" or "cracker"

btw: A lot of the answers given above arn't answering the original question. The question was for the person at the top or above you as the slave driver. Not the 'minion' or 'dogsbody' which refers to the employee being driven.

Just a thought.

2
  • 6
    I don't see that in the question as currently worded.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 16, 2015 at 17:20
  • 2
    Or as initially worded.
    – Erik Kowal
    Feb 17, 2015 at 6:53
-1

You are referring to ...

A suit.

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=suit

1
-3

The term yuppie comes to mind:

A yuppie (short for "young urban professional" or "young upwardly-mobile professional") is defined by one source as being "a young college-educated adult who has a job that pays a lot of money and who lives and works in or near a large city". This acronym first came into use in the early 1980s.

9
  • 1
    Not an acronym - it's a portmanteau.
    – Jasmine
    Feb 16, 2015 at 19:42
  • 2
    @Jasmine I just got that from wikipedia, which I linked. Tell it to them! Feb 16, 2015 at 19:49
  • 2
    Yuppie is more about lifestyle than about the specific job. You can be a yuppie and work for a startup.
    – neminem
    Feb 16, 2015 at 21:40
  • 4
    @Jasmine: You are wrong. It is an acronym from "young urban professional". Even etymonline mentions that.
    – ermanen
    Feb 17, 2015 at 0:24
  • 3
    Yuppie certainly doesn't imply "boring, repetitious and mindless work and insignificance of the person". Feb 18, 2015 at 3:43

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.