Useful Business English Idioms
What is dead wood? And what exactly is cherry picking? The world of business has its own language and, with it, its very own idioms. Below, you will find a useful list of 20 common English words, expressions and phrases used in business. How many of these terms do you know?
1. a plug-and-play employee
A plug-and-play employee is ❛an experienced employee who does not need on-the-job training❜.
Example: Rafi got the job because he was a plug-and-play employee.
2. a toxic employee
Do you work with any toxic employees? If you do, you will know that they are ❛negative and unpleasant workers who spoil the office morale❜.
Example: Most of the employees stay away from Fred - he’s a toxic employee.
The adjective cut-throat means ❛very tough❜ and can be used to describe a highly competitive type of business, sector, industry etc...
Example: Investment banking is a cut-throat business.
4. dead wood
Dead wood is a term that refers to ❛people or parts of an organization that are no longer productive or necessary❜.
Example: Our company needs to cut back on personnel, i.e. to get rid of all of the dead wood.
5. rat race
The rat race can be defined as❛an unpleasant and hectic lifestyle in which people are working very hard to compete with others for (more) money, power and status.
Example: Aimée decided to get out of the rat race. She quit her job, moved to the country and become an artist.
6. to be a big fish in a small pond
A big fish in a small pond refers to ❛the most important person or company in small group or market❜.
Example: Despite its success in Smallville, Fritz’s Fast Food would not competitive in a bigger market. It’s a big fish in a small pond, but it’s nothing more than that.
7. to be at the top of one’s agenda
If something is at the top of your agenda, it is❛ top priority❜ for you.
Example: Achieving long-term success is at the top of our agenda.
8. to be in the black
The expression to be in the black means to be ❛profitable❜, i.e. able to show positive figures.
Example: After two years of losses, the organization was finally in the black again.
9. to be in the red
What’s the opposite of to being in the black? Well, of course, it is being in the red. If you are in the red, you have ❛recorded a loss or are losing money❜.
Example: Unfortunately, Acme Ltd. has been in the red for the past three years. The CEO is hoping for a positive change next year.
10. to be in the same ballpark
When two things are in the same ballpark, they ❛cost approximately the same amount❜.
Example: I don’t know the details of the two offers, but I imagine that they must be in the same ballpark.
11. to be off base
The English idiom to be off base is a synonym for ❛to be wrong❜.
e.g. The supervisory board argued that the report’s findings were completely off base.
12. to be snowed under
Are you snowed under at the moment? If your answer is yes, you are currently ❛overwhelmed with work❜, i.e. you are ❛overworked.❜
Example: Acala hasn’t been able to join us for lunch this week. She says that she is snowed under and needs every minute to get her work done.
13. to bear fruit
When something bears fruit, it ❛produces successful results❜.
Example: The committee’s brainstorming bore fruit and they were able to present their boss with three very good proposals.
14. to break even
If ❛you do not make money but also do not lose money❜, you break even.
Example: Despite the uncertain economic conditions, the company was able to break even in 2009.
15. to burn the midnight oil
If you burn the midnight oil, you ❛work very hard late into the night❜.
Example: After burning the midnight oil, Ming looked very tired this morning.
16. to cherry pick
The English idiom to cherry pick means ❛to select the best people or things among a group❜.
Example: The biggest and best-paying companies can cherry pick the best job applicants.
17. to earn your stripes
In any job, you ❛gain status and recognition through hard work and experience❜ and this is what you call earning your stripes.
Example: It took me five years to earn my stripes and finally get promoted to the position of assistant manager.
18. to get to the bottom of something
If someone says that he is going to get to the bottom of something, it means that he is going ❛to clarify a situation❜, i.e. find out the truth about something.
Example: We have to get to the bottom of what went wrong with our marketing strategies.
19. to go to the wall
To go to the wall is a synonym for ❛to go bankrupt❜.
Example: After many years of struggling in a competitive market, the construction company went to the wall.
20. to put something on the back burner
When you put something on the back burner, you ❛make it less of a priority and decide to deal with it at a later date❜.
Example: Expansion into foreign markets was a priority for us in the past. Right now, however, we have put these plans on the back burner.
Are you interested in learning or teaching more business English idioms, e.g. red tape, to learn the ropes etc...? Make learning English idioms fun with this one-of-a-kind interactive business English card game for 2-6 players: