The Things Our Bosses Said a Lot This Year

“You’re on mute” was said on 1,000 percent more calls between executives and investors in 2020 compared with 2019.

By Jason Karaian and Sophia June

The coronavirus pandemic gave 2020 a new dictionary, and seemingly overnight, corporate America began speaking with a new language. In calls between executives and investors, there was a choice set of words and phrases that were used to describe the … unprecedented moment we all found ourselves living through. These are some of the phrases whose use skyrocketed this year, based on more than 20,000 corporate presentations that we analyzed with Sentieo, a research firm. (Surprisingly, executives swore just as much as last year.)

“Unprecedented times”

Mentioned in 2,128 calls this year vs. 3 last year


“These are unprecedented times. A lot of our reopening is not just our decision. We’re not fully in control.” Christine McCarthy, C.F.O. of the Walt Disney Company Sept. 9


14,655 calls vs. 8,528


“We’ve never been in a more challenging environment.” Larry Culp Jr., C.E.O. of General Electric Oct. 28


1,283 calls vs. 30



450 calls vs. 152


“Obviously, Covid has absolutely humbled the world.” Ashley McEvoy, worldwide chairman of medical devices at Johnson & Johnson Nov. 19


3,057 calls vs. 372


“New normal”

2,828 calls vs. 451


“I’m not sure what the new normal is, but we see a better sense of normalcy, whatever that is, returning to the global economy.” Michael Corbat, C.E.O. of Citigroup July 14

“Work from home”

4,845 calls vs. 18


“You’re on mute”

175 vs. 16


“If a call in 2020 goes by without somebody saying, ‘You’re on mute,’ the year would not be complete.” Aman Bhutani, C.E.O. of GoDaddy Dec. 15

“Technical difficulties”

526 calls vs. 129



100 calls vs. 101

No change

“So the extension of the shelter-in-place — or frankly I would call it forcibly imprisoning people in their homes against all their constitutional rights — but that’s my opinion — and breaking people’s freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country. What the (expletive). Excuse me. It’s outrage. It’s an outrage.” Elon Musk, C.E.O. of Tesla April 29

Source: Sentieo • Figures are from transcripts of investor calls for all companies with a U.S. stock market listing. Prevalence is measured by the number of transcripts in which a phrase appears, not all individual mentions. Data as of Dec. 28. •  Illustration by The New York Times

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