(I'm rephrasing a question I posted a few hours ago)

I started a new job as a web developer a few weeks ago. I like all my coworkers, we've had normal conversation about out-of-work stuff like dogs, restaurants, TV shows. Everyone's very friendly.

But when they talk about work stuff or assign me projects, it feels like they are speaking a different language. Some of the words they use are English words, and others I have never heard before and can't figure out what they mean. Here's an example:

"For this week, I'd like you to documentation derouting ad-hoc verification biased functional linearality ingress."

"I need you to quattro specify split as per the required subjective favor."

The first one is a full sentence from an email, and the second one is something a coworker asked me to do in person. Some of these words I understand, but the sentences make no sense to me. I responded to both with "What is that?" and they repeated the same sentence both times. I've asked other coworkers to explain a sentence to me that someone else said or wrote and they just repeat it. This is how they talk to each other about work stuff. But they speak perfect English when talking about non-work stuff. I've asked dozens of times for them to define what these words are and they always repeat their original sentence verbatim, and usually look at me like I'm dumb.

I feel like this might be some kind of prank they're pulling, since they talk normally about everything else. Either way, I'm really confused and feel like I don't fit in and won't be able to accomplish whatever it is they want. What would you do here?

edit: some more information that might be relevant is that no one communicated this way during my interview. We talked about Javascript and I did some algorithm whiteboarding for them. But when I've brought up things like getting access to the dev servers/git repos, everyone says "What is that?". The guy who talked to me about Javascript asked what I was doing when I was downloading a text editor on my first day and seemed to not understand why I would need one. It was like it was his first time seeing a text editor. In my time here I have never seen any of the other coders have any code open whatsoever, or mention anything coding/software-engineering related.

  • 6
    that is really a "hmm" situation, have you tried talking to HR or the person that interviews you regarding this situation? May 28, 2020 at 1:26
  • 3
    Are they paying you? What is your contract? What does your manager say about work?
    – user61034
    May 28, 2020 at 1:30
  • 8
    How do they code? What are they supposed to do? What do they do all day? May 28, 2020 at 2:41
  • 7
    This is so messed up on so many levels if true. May 28, 2020 at 6:34
  • 9
    How is it you have been in a new job for "a few weeks" when only two weeks ago you had been in a job for six months and wanted to go back to your old one? May 28, 2020 at 20:03

3 Answers 3


The "nonsensical instructions" hazing pranks are always based on exploiting that the person being hazed is afraid to admit that they do not understand the instructions or what purpose they might have. It doesn't work in an environment where new people are not just allowed but expected to ask questions. The IT industry is all about knowledge acquisition and sharing, so having such an environment would be very counterproductive and a sign of a very dysfunctional knowledge culture.

But on the other hand, it is perfectly normal to arrive at a new workplace and encounter jargon you have never heard before. I have also seen the phenomenon in some workplaces where someone introduces a new term which is common industry jargon, but mispronounces or misuses it. Then everyone else in the workplace adopts that mistake believing it to be correct. That can create some really weird company-specific jargon many don't realize is company-specific and then sticks around forever. I was actually guilty of that myself in a few cases :). So instructions which sound nonsensical to you might actually make a lot of sense to the person giving them and might even make sense to you if you understood what the jargon means.

For these reasons, new hires in IT organizations should be expected and encouraged to ask lots of questions. That's an integral part of the on-boarding process.

So the best way to deal with such a situation is to insist that the person who is giving the instructions explains what exactly they want.

But just asking "What do you mean with that?" is not really a good way to do that, because it does not tell them what you didn't understand. Instead ask specific questions.

documentation derouting ad-hoc verification biased functional linearality ingress.

Questions you could ask here are:

What purpose is this documentation supposed to fulfill? Derouting? What are we derouting and where? What ad-hoc verification are we performing where and how? How does that biasing work? What's functional linearality ingess?

If you ask questions like that, then they have three options:

  • Explain what they actually mean with those instructions, probably teaching things you need to know at that workplace.
  • Become uncooperative, at which point you can just reject the task saying "I am sorry, but I can't do that if you don't explain to me what you actually want me to do".
  • Admit they were trying to make a bad joke.
  • Ok. I've tried the things like "What purpose is this documention supposed to fulfill?" and all my coworkers interrupt repeating the original sentence. I will start being uncooperative and see what happens next.
    – user117978
    May 28, 2020 at 17:41
  • @hmmm I think people will be interested to hear what happens May 29, 2020 at 12:49
  • 1
    Yes i am interested in the results. I would however direct the OP to go to the manager. Pranks at work can be fine/harmless or in good fun, but them dragging on too long is a waste of everyones time and harmful to the new employees motivation. May 30, 2020 at 12:02

The phrase "What is that?" is too vague.

If you do not understand a specific word, mention which word you do not understand.

For your example phrase:

For this week, I'd like you to documentation derouting ad-hoc verification biased functional linearality ingress.

Ask the following:

  • "Derouting" is a verb, but I have no idea what I'm suppose to do. Can you help?

  • "ad-hoc verification biased functional linearality ingress" reads like a [very wordy] noun. Can you point me to where I can find documentation on it? If it isn't a single "thing", can you point to me which piece is what?

  • For the above sentence, you can also ask "Is the word 'biased' suppose to be 'based'"? That changes the phrase a lot.

  • 4
    So if you ask "What does derouting mean?", they reply "For this week, I'd like you to documentation derouting ad-hoc verification biased functional linearality ingress."? Why don't you do what they do then? So respond with "But what does derouting mean?" and just keep that up until they stop.
    – Nelson
    May 28, 2020 at 2:29
  • 7
    Just note that the question "What does that mean?" is A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT QUESTION than "What does derouting mean?" The first one, if I am asked that question, tells me the listener has done zero processing of the request. The second one tells me there is comprehension and it is something specific they do not know. Do not imagine the two questions to be "the same".
    – Nelson
    May 28, 2020 at 2:30
  • 2
    There're so many ways to take the questions to a different direction other than to bluntly ask "What does <thing> mean?" You can go "What kind of authorization would I need to perform this task?" "Who is responsible for quality assurance?" "Where can I find previous deliverable as a reference sample?" There is no way they can respond to any of these questions with the same phrase.
    – Nelson
    May 28, 2020 at 2:41
  • 4
    "Ok, I'll frobnify it, but I need to grok it first. Could you please help me grokking it?" May 28, 2020 at 2:44
  • 7
    @hmmm So, either you are being trolled, or we are being trolled. This sounds so absurd that I can not conceive any longer of a 3rd possibility. May 28, 2020 at 21:17

I found every work place has specific lingo or words used in the work place. It could be that your coworkers are trying to sound funny by talking various words to describe a task.

"For this week, I'd like you to documentation derouting ad-hoc verification biased functional linearality ingress."

In this example, it could be they just want you to write a documentation but said in a funny way to sound complex like you're doing something profound. Writing documentation is a mundane task so it could be that they're just spicing it up to sound great. I would first determine if this is the case, and you can find that out by asking your boss. Just be direct and blunt, "Boss, a coworker asked me to write a documentation derouting ad-hoc verification biased functional linerality ingress, and I am just wondering if this is some sort of joke language? And your boss would answer.

I feel like if you don't understand something, then just go ask about it. It's far better than sitting around doing nothing and then having to explain you did not understand the direction. They would of course wonder why you didn't just ask bluntly.

If it turns out to be just a joke that everyone talks in this complex manner, then try to equally do it or if it is not your cup of tea, then you can drown out the nonsense parts and know what you need to do.

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