24 more business English idioms to help you “get ahead” in business English communications. This third-in-our-series list will enrich and expand your language with common, colorful expressions that native speakers use everyday.
This alphabetical business English idioms list is Chapter 3 in our idiom series. It follows the previous idiom post, “39 Business English Idioms Explained, Chapter 2.” If you have not already seen Chapters 1 and 2, and if you want to start at the beginning, go to “Learn 20 Business English Idioms, Chapter 1.”
Since we have already reviewed the question of “what are business English idioms” in chapters one and two, let’s jump right in with the chapter 3 list!
1. Quick buck
Quick or easy earnings; same as “fast buck.” Can suggest unethical behavior.
Example: Those stock traders are ruthless. They’re just out to make a quick buck.
2. Reality check
To think realistically about the situation
Example: Let’s have a reality check and see if the company needs to cut back on employee hours. With our decreased profits, the ROI is just not there.
Obstructive official routine or procedure; time-consuming bureaucracy
Example: In order to get the project greenlighted, there was loads of red tape to get through. All of those phone calls and meetings were exhausting!
4. Rule of thumb
A useful principle having wide application but not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable in every situation
Example: The rule of thumb at my office is to wear casual clothes on Fridays.
5. Scale back
Reduce the number of hours or the size of the project, etc
Example: We are scaling back operations until production picks up again.
6. Scratch someone’s back
To do something for someone with the intent that he/she does something for you
Example: Listen, I will scratch your back if you scratch mine. I’ll put a good word in for you this time, and when it’s my turn to lead the project, you do the same. Okay?
Note: this can sound shady (=disreputable).
7. Selling like hotcakes
To sell quickly and in large numbers
Example: The new laptops were selling like hotcakes!
8. Short on cash
Having little or a limited amount of money
Example: Sorry, but there’s no way we can give raises this year; the company is short on cash.
9. Sparks fly / make sparks fly
Interaction that becomes heated, angry or confrontational
Example: You should have seen the sparks fly at the meeting with the heads of the department! Some of the managers were really furious.
10. Spend a fortune
To spend a large amount of money
Example: It seems like they spent a fortune on the company party. There was an open bar, live entertainment, and great food.
11. Test the waters
To try it; to experiment
Example: I wanted to test the waters before I started working on this project, so I mentioned my concept at the board meeting. Then I just watched to see how they reacted.
Insensitive to criticism
Example: My colleague is so thick-skinned that he never gets upset, no matter how harshly he is criticized.
13. Throw in the towel
To quit; to give up
Example: I decided to throw in the towel on my old job. It was so bad that I just had to quit.
14. To beat someone to the punch
To do something before somebody else has a chance
Examples: I really wanted to explain that point in the meeting, but my colleague opened his big mouth and beat me to the punch.
15. To be hit hard by something
To suffer financial losses; to have your market sharply contract
Example: The travel and hospitality sectors have been hit very hard by the Covid pandemic.
16. To blow up
To become very angry
Example: I am afraid that my boss is going to blow up when I tell her I did not close the deal.
Also when your mobile or social media account is getting lots of messages, posts, calls and notifications
Example: OMG, after my last post, my Twitter account totally blew up!
17. To blow it
To mess something up; to spoil your chances of achieving success because of what you say or do, or don’t do
Example: I think I priced that job way too high. I think I blew the sale.
18. To come up with
To think of a new idea or approach
Example: I don’t know who came up with the idea of a company breakfast once a month, but it sure sounds like fun!
19. To drop the ball
To make a mistake; to fail to perform one’s responsibilities
Example: My boss totally dropped the ball, and now we will never get that big contract we were all working on.
20. To flog something
To aggressively promote or sell something
Example: Multilevel companies are terrible; you have to flog products to your friends and family.
21. To get ahead
To advance in one’s career
Example: To get ahead at my company, you have to work hard, produce sales and keep really long hours.
22. To get laid off / to be made redundant
To lose one’s job, but not through firing
Example: I am afraid I will be laid off because of the corporate reorganization.
23. To get wind of
To find out about something that is not well known
Example: I got wind of the reorganization and decided to quit before I got laid off.
24. To have seen better days
To be in a period of decline
Example: Our office building has seen better days. It is old and rundown.
OK… that’s it for this Chapter 3 idiom list. We hope you enjoy using these business English idioms. And if you would like to further develop your business English, we have some suggestions for you. Please keep reading and take the free test.
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Contributors: Brenda de Jong-Pauley, Kerry Finlayson and Marike Duizendstra-Wolters
August 2021, Updated April 2022.