The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Let's jump on a call ... and other downplaying verbs

With my partner working from home a couple of days a week nowadays, I can’t help but overhear a lot of the “office speak” that I usually miss out on. He spends a lot of his time chatting to colleagues via Teams and several times I’ve heard him and others talking about “jumping on a call”, to mean having a video call. It caught my attention, not least because it seems to be another potential addition to a set of ‘downplaying’ verbs that interest me. 

So, I did a corpus search (using the Timestamped JSI web corpus 2014-2021 via SketchEngine) for “jump on” and found an interesting collection of direct object collocations that seem to fall into fairly clear sets: 

Heading: jump on. Image of four circles, in the top on the text reads "physical leap, jump on a trampoline, a bed, the table, downward arrows to two circles, the one directly below, text reads: quick movement, jump on a train/bus, a bike, a plane/flight; another circle slightly to the right, text reads: seize a chance, jump on the bandwagon, opportunity/chance, an idea, downwards arrow in line with 'quick movement' to bottom circle, text reads: communications, jump on Twitter.instagram/a call, social media. Final text box with arrows to quick movement and communications circles text reads: downplaying, quick, easy, no effort
Click to enlarge

Starting with the most literal sense, there were quite a few examples of people (and animals) physically jumping on(to) things: 

children playing outside and jumping on the trampoline
My son broke his elbow a couple of months ago after jumping on his bed
Look who learned to jump on the table!
[of a cat] 

As on offshoot, there’s a whole set of expressions to do with seizing an opportunity, the most frequent of which is the idiom jump on the bandwagon. You can jump on an opportunity or chance – take it while it’s available. And journalists, politicians and media commentators generally sometimes jump on a story or some news – they eagerly take the opportunity to talk/write about it because it's interesting or controversial, etc. But for today, I want to leave this offshoot to one side. 

Getting back to movement, there was an overlap between the literal and slightly more metaphorical when it comes to transport. If we say that someone jumps on a bus or a train or a flight, we probably don’t quite visualize them leaping. Instead, the use of the verb jump here, rather than the more neutral get or catch, suggests that the journey was easy and quick and no trouble at all. It’s the kind of verb you use when you’re trying to downplay the effort or inconvenience involved. For example, if someone offers you a lift home and you tell them not to worry, you’ll just jump on the bus. 

Jumping on a train to the airport is a given in many cities
You know, not everyone can jump on a plane and come to New York
I could jump on my bike and be in the city in two-and-a-half minutes. 

The communications contexts seem to follow on from this idea of doing something quickly and easily. When it’s a video call, it seems to have the connotation that it will be easy to set up, won’t take up too much time, and will all round perhaps be much easier than it used to be arranging face-to-face meetings. 

If you have questions […] we're happy to jump on a Zoom call
Then I jump on work calls at about 7.15am.
Shall we jump on a quick video call

Both the transport and video call senses emphasize ease and downplay effort or inconvenience. Which is what makes me think that jump (on) may be a candidate for a group of verbs that include nip, pop and grab, that we use to downplay actions. 

I’m just … nipping out/popping to the shop/going to grab a coffee.
Can you just … nip down to reception/pop your PIN number in/grab me some sugar? 

Interestingly, if you jump on social media, there seems to be an overlap between ease/speed/convenience and the journalistic sense of jumping on a news story, in that you’re quick to voice your (often critical) opinion: 

On Friday she jumped on Twitter to insist her words had been taken "out of context"
Chelsea fans were quick to jump on social media to condemn […] for his stamp last weekend.
She jumped on Instagram this afternoon to deliver an update on the project. 

Right, I’m just going to pop this post on my blog and then jump on social media to share it. Feel free to pop any thoughts in the comments.