Business in English: Phrases You Should Know
Doing business in English is pretty much the same as doing business in any other language. But as someone who is still beginning to learn the nuances of the language, encountering some of these terms might sound weird. After all, it has been well established that English is a very colorful language. Idioms and metaphors are common, especially while doing business in English.
If you want to get ahead in business in English, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with these common expressions.
Ahead of the curve
Anything that is ‘ahead of the curve’ is more advanced than everything else. This may be used to refer to business plans or an outstanding employee.
- Teachers are encouraged to take seminars to remain ahead of the curve.
- We’re hiring additional staff so productivity will remain ahead of the curve.
Ahead of the pack
Just like being ‘ahead of the curve’, when something is ‘ahead of the pack’, it is more advanced than its competition. In business in English, this may refer to business plans or outstanding employees.
- If we want to stay ahead of the pack, we should think outside the box.
Back to square one
If something has to be done all over again, it is going ‘back to square one.’
- The web page has encountered several bugs. Looks like we’re back to square one.
Back to the drawing board
In business in English, ‘back to the drawing board’ means to repeat something all over again. Usually, this means that a whole process must be repeated from the planning stages.
- The updates we applied did not work. The bugs we encountered are still present. Looks like we’re back to the drawing board.
If someone makes a ‘backroom deal’, that person made an agreement without the public knowing about it. It also means ‘secret deal.’ This usually has a negative connotation.
- His company won the bid through a backroom deal.
Ballpark number/ ballpark figure
Next, a ‘ballpark number’ or ‘ballpark figure’ refers to an estimate of what the actual number or figure will be like.
- The seminar gave a ballpark figure of how much sending a kid to college would cost.
While doing business in English, talking about the ‘big picture’ simply means talking about the whole scenario. Most of the time, talking about the whole picture also means not just focusing on the obvious.
- It was clear William was suffering from mental illness. Anyone who saw the big picture would know that.
Another business English phrase everyone should be familiar with is ‘blue collar.’ To explain, the expression refers to workers who are involved in manual labor. For example, construction workers and custodians are considered blue collar workers. The term came from how most of these workers wore blue uniforms to their jobs.
- My father was a blue collar worker all his life.
Call it a day
To ‘call it a day’ means to stop working. In business in English, most employees use this to signal an end to the workday.
- I’ve been working for more than ten hours. I’m calling it a day.
Change of pace
Meanwhile, an employee wanting a ‘change of pace’ is looking for something different from what that employee usually does.
- Jack resigned because he wanted a change of pace from sitting behind a desk all day.
Next, another common business in the English phrase is to ‘cut corners.’ Whenever someone is told to ‘cut corners’, it could mean two things: find shortcuts to do something, or work on a budget.
- We were on a deadline, so we had to cut corners on the project.
- Everyone started cutting corners once the company started downsizing.
When an event is described as ‘cut-throat’, it means that the event was very intense. Additionally, it could also describe a person who is very competitive and aggressive.
- The race for the position of new supervisor is very cut-throat.
- Maria was a very cut-throat medical student.
Diamond in the rough
Next, the phrase ‘diamond in the rough’ refers to someone who shows a lot of potentials. In fact, this came from the notion of how diamonds require a lot of polish first before they can shine.
- Alexander is a diamond in the rough. With a little bit of guidance, he’ll make a fine administrator.
From the ground up
Starting something ‘from the ground up’ means ‘building something from scratch.’ In business in English, this is often used to talk about start-up business.
- Park built his conglomerate from the ground up.
Go down the drain
Anything that is wasted or lost is said to ‘go down the drain.’
- The team worked on the presentation for days. The project’s cancellation just sent everything down the drain.
Go the extra mile
Meanwhile, someone said to ‘go the extra mile’ is doing something beyond what is expected. In business in English, this is often taken as a compliment.
- I love this bank’s online services because it goes the extra mile to assist its customers.
In the driver’s seat
Whenever someone is described as sitting ‘in the driver’s seat’, it means that that person is in charge of the situation.
- I weird being the new manager. It has been so long since I was in the driver’s seat.
On the same page
On another note, when people are ‘on the same page’, it means they agree on the same thing.
- Jean and Dean will never be on the same page.
Next, the phrase ‘give the pink slip’ refers to someone being fired.
- I received the pink slip last week.
Read between the lines
Next, someone asked to ‘read between the lines’ is being asked to look beyond what is explicitly said. In other words, it means to look for hidden meanings.
- Can’t you read between the lines? The company does not need your services anymore.
The phrase ‘red tape’ refers to excessive procedures, rules, or regulations that are difficult to follow. The term ‘red tape’ is often used to describe how business is performed in government offices.
- In my country, getting a business permit is difficult because of all the red tape.
‘Round-the-clock’ simply means ’24 hours’.
- The construction next door has been going round-the-clock since it started.
See eye to eye
Like ‘on the same page’, the phrase ‘see eye to eye’ also means people agreeing on the same thing.
- This company will not prosper unless the management starts to see eye to eye.
Take something lying down
To ‘take something lying down’ means to accept something without even giving a fight. This phrase usually has a negative connotation when used to describe a person.
- We do not have to do it just because the management said so. We do not have to take this issue lying down.
The elephant in the room
‘The elephant in the room’ is another common phrase in business in English. It refers to something that is very obvious but is uncomfortable for everyone to talk about.
- Paul thinks it is time to talk about the elephant in the room – what will happen to us once the company finally closes down?
Think outside the box
Another phrase that is quite familiar in business in English is ‘think outside the box’. This means to think about a creative solution regarding an issue.
- We encouraged our employees to think outside the box regarding the next project.
Throw in the towel
Similar to being given the pink slip, someone who ‘throws in the towel’ is someone who quits a job.
- Martin decided to finally throw in the towel after tolerating years of abuse.
A ‘tough break’ refers to an unfortunate event or an unpleasant experience.
- When Jenna quit the restaurant, it was a tough break for everyone because we had to work overtime.
Under the table
In business in English, something done ‘under the table’ is something that is done in secret, and often, illegally.
- They made some under the table deals just to get the casino running.
Just like ‘blue collar’, this term refers to a type of worker or job. A ‘white collar’ employee refers to someone who works in an office. These workers usually dress in white button-down shirts. Accountants, architects, bank employees are all white collar workers.
- Most university graduates end up in white collar jobs.
Finally, a ‘yes man’ is a person who always agrees to anything. A ‘yes man’ lacks backbone. That is why this phrase often has a negative connotation.
- George got the promotion just because he is a yes man.
Generally speaking, there are still a lot of English business phrases. If you know of some more, please do share it with us in the comments.
Can you tell the meaning of the following idioms without taking a peek at the list above?
Which of the following means ‘doing something all over again’?
If something has to be done all over again, it is going ‘back to square one.’
Which of the following means 'working on a budget'?
Whenever someone is told to ‘cut corners’, it could mean two things: find shortcuts to do something, or work on a budget.
Alex has potential, but he needs to undergo training first. Alex is ----?
The phrase ‘diamond in the rough’ refers to someone who shows a lot of potential. In fact, this came from the notion of how diamonds require a lot of polish first before they can shine.
What is an 'under the table' deal?
Something done ‘under the table’ is something that is done in secret, and often, illegally.
Accountants and bank employees are examples of which type of jobs?
A ‘white collar’ employee refers to someone who works in an office. The term comes from how they are usually dressed in white button down shirts. Accountants, architects, bank employees are all white collar workers.
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