Phrases on Friday: The Tasteless Origins of Creepy Corporate Jargon

Kenichi Nobusue, Flickr

The other day during a lunch meeting, a phrase marched, unbidden, into my vocabulary.

And now, I can’t make it leave.

The phrase is—ick—open the kimono. 

In context, this phrase means “to openly share data.” There’s no agenda. The kimono is open. Secrets are on the table. In context, and out of context, opening the kimono made me nauseous, and curious about the business frat house (I assumed) from whence it sprang. Here’s what I found.

Bruce Watson of reports that the phrase materialized in the business world some time in the 1970s (though the link provided doesn’t seem to back that up).

He goes on to say:

According to [Salon writer Danny] Bloom, the Japanese term refers to Samurai clothing and suggests the more informal wardrobe — and behavior — that a warrior might adopt when relaxing in his own home. In this interpretation, “open kimono” might be comparable to “let’s take off our neckties,” in that it indicates a business situation in which prospective partners are honest and direct with each other.

This is great. Except how many of you pictured a samurai warrior when you heard that phrase? I thought so.

Unfortunately, MacMillan Dictionary points to Google trends that show open the kimono usage is inexorably rising. However, if you feel tempted to use this phrase in everyday conversation, perhaps on your next conference call or at your next meeting, don’t.

Don’t ask why.

Just don’t.