Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Business English: Idioms

For better or worse, the American workplace is full of idioms. People don’t begin a project. They “get a project off the ground.”They don’t call each other to discuss progress – they “touch base.” Later, if the project is not going well, they don’t end it. They “pull the plug.” Here are some idioms you're likely to encounter in the workplace.

at a premium
at a high price; at a relatively high price
Example: When flat-screen televisions first came out, they were selling at a premium.

back-of-the-envelope calculations
quick calculations; estimates using approximate numbers, instead of exact numbers
Example: I don't need the exact numbers right now. Just give me some back-of-the-envelope calculations.
Note: This expression refers to the quick calculations one would do informally, as on the back of an envelope.

reduction of expenses
Example: When worldwide demand for software decreased, Microsoft had to do some belt-tightening.

(to) bite the bullet
to make a difficult or painful decision; to take a difficult step
Example: When demand was down, U.S. automakers had to bite the bullet and cut jobs.
Origin: This idiom comes from the military. During the Civil War in the United States, doctors sometimes ran out of whiskey for killing the pain. A bullet would be put in the wounded soldier's mouth during surgery. He would "bite the bullet" to distract him from the pain and keep him quiet so the doctor could do his work in peace.

bitter pill to swallow
bad news; something unpleasant to accept
Example: After Gina spent her whole summer working as an intern for American Express, failing to get a full-time job offer from the company was a bitter pill to swallow.

a big success; a huge hit
Example: Eli Lilly made a lot of money with the prescription drug, Prozac. It was a real blockbuster.
Origin: This term comes from the blockbuster bombs used during World War Two by the British Royal Air Force. They were huge and created a large explosive force. Blockbuster ideas similarly create a big impact - and hopefully don't cause destruction like blockbuster bombs!

cash cow
a product, service, or business division that generates a lot of cash for the company, without requiring much investment
Example: With strong sales every year and a great brand name, Mercedes is a cash cow for Daimler Chrysler.

(to) cash in on
to make money on; to benefit financially from
Example: Jamie Oliver, star of the TV show The Naked Chef, cashed in on his popularity by writing cookbooks and opening restaurants.

(to) climb the corporate ladder
advance in one's career; the process of getting promoted and making it to senior management
Example: You want to climb the corporate ladder? It helps to be productive and to look good in front of your boss.

(to) compare apples to oranges
to compare two unlike things; to make an invalid comparison
Example: Comparing a night at Econo Lodge with a night at the Four Seasons is like comparing apples to oranges. One is a budget motel, and the other is a luxury hotel.
Note: You will also see the related expression "compare apples to apples" which means to compare two things of the same type. This means that you are making a valid comparison, as opposed to when you're comparing apples to oranges.

crunch time
a short period when there's high pressure to achieve a result
Example: It's crunch time for stem cell researchers in Korea. New government regulations may soon make their work illegal.

dog-eat-dog world
a cruel and aggressive world in which people just look out for themselves
Example: Your company fired you shortly after you had a heart attack? Well, it's certainly a dog-eat-dog world!
Origin: This expression dates back to the 1500's. Wild dogs were observed fighting aggressively over a piece of food. The connection was made that people, like dogs, often compete aggressively to get what they want.

(to) dot your i's and cross your t's
to be very careful; to pay attention to details
Example: When preparing financial statements, accuracy is very important. Be sure to dot your i's and cross your t's.

(to) drum up business
to create business; to find new customers
Example: Sales have been very slow lately. Do you have any ideas for drumming up business?

(to) face the music
to admit that there's a problem; to deal with an unpleasant situation realistically
Example: Enron executives finally had to face the music and admit that they were involved in some illegal activities.

(to) fast track a project
to make a project a high priority; to speed up the time frame of a project
Example: Let's fast track this project. We've heard rumors that our competitors are developing similar products.

(to) generate lots of buzz
to cause many people to start talking about a product or service, usually in a positive way that increases sales
Example: Procter & Gamble generated lots of buzz for its new toothpaste by giving away free samples to people on the streets of New York City.
Note: "Buzz" is a popular word for "attention."

(to) have a lot on one's plate
to have a lot to do; to have too much to do; to have too much to cope with
Example: Carlos turned down the project, explaining that he already had a lot on his plate.
Note: There is also the variation: to have too much on one's plate.

(the) hard sell
an aggressive way of selling
Example: Car salesmen are famous for using the hard sell on their customers.
Note: The opposite of "the hard sell" is "the soft sell," which is a sales technique using little or no pressure.

(to) jump the gun
to start doing something too soon or ahead of everybody else
Example: The company jumped the gun by releasing a new product before the results of the consumer testing were in.
Origin: A runner "jumps the gun" if he or she starts running before the starter's pistol has been fired.

(to) jump through hoops
to go through a lot of difficult work for something; to face many bureaucratic obstacles
Example: We had to jump through hoops to get our visas to Russia, but we finally got them.

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