This Business English Idiom Lesson (Chapter 4) contains definitions and examples of common idioms used in the workplace. Mastery of these idiomatic phrases, also called English expressions, will help you communicate like a native speaker. This is the fourth post in our Business English Idiom Series.
This post follows Chapter 3 in the idiom series. Please also check out “39 Business English Idioms Explained, Chapter 2” and if you want to start at the beginning, go to “Learn 20 Business English Idioms, Chapter 1.”
Let’s jump in now with Chapter 4 in our Business English Idiom Lesson Series. After you finish, be sure to take our free idiom test.
Idioms for Business English, Chapter 4, Idioms 1–10
1. To keep something under wraps
to keep something secret, to not let people know about something:
We’re going to give Suzanna a big bonus next month, but don’t tell her. Let’s keep it under wraps for now.
2. To lay out a plan
to present a plan:
We had to lay out a plan for dealing with the Corona lockdown and the eventual return to normal business.
3. To pay a premium
to pay a higher price for something because it is perceived to have greater value. Also to pay more because of scarcity. Note: this phrase can also apply to payments for insurance.
You’ll pay a premium for coffee at that shop, but it is the best in town.
4. To play catch up
to make a big effort to overcome a late start; when you are behind and you have to take actions to get to the level of your competition:
Let’s face it, our competitors own that market right now. But we’re going to work really hard and play catch up.
5. To plug a product or service
to promote a product; to talk positively about it:
A famous celebrity plugged the product for years, and it really helped with sales.
6. To pull the plug
to stop a project that is not doing well; stop moving forwards; discontinue:
Even though it was an interesting idea to give away a mug with each book purchase, the boss pulled the plug as we ran out of mugs.
7. To put a lid on it / put a lid on something
to stop; to stop something from increasing; often used to discuss spending. Also to encourage someone to stop talking about something:
Expenses are getting out of control. We need to put a lid on spending.
Enough complaining! Let’s put a lid on it for now.
8. To rally the troops
to motivate others; to get others excited about; to move forward:
The new manager was good at rallying the troops to build company spirit. He planned sports events that were lots of fun.
9. To snap up
describes buying behavior; to buy quickly or in large quantities; a term that implies that a product is very popular and desirable:
Customers snapped up so many of the new T-shirts that we had to silkscreen a bunch more to meet demand.
10. To throw cold water over/on (an idea/plan)
to discourage an idea, plan or action:
I thought the new marketing campaign concept was great, but my colleagues just threw cold water on it. They hated the idea.
OK, you’re at the halfway point. Don’t “pull the plug” (#6) now! You’re not ready to “put a lid on it” yet, are you (#7)? I know it may feel like “an uphill battle” (#12), but you’re almost there! Let’s continue with Business English Idiom Lesson Chapter 4, Idioms 11–20.
11. Under the table
secret dealmaking, as in money that is paid “off the books” or in cash (e.g., the deal is often illegal). The idiomatic opposite of “under the table” is “above board.”
They made their agreement under the table, so I don’t really know what was agreed to.
12. Uphill battle
a difficult challenge, usually a long process so hard that it feels like a fight:
It was really an uphill battle to get the extra vacation day approved.
13. Word of mouth
news spread by people talking to each other; gossip:
Often used as a marketing term to describe an advertising or marketing message that is spread from one person to another, which is a positive thing for the company because it means that people are talking about the company’s product or service:
The new restaurant’s reputation for delicious food spread so quickly by word of mouth that they didn’t need to spend a penny on advertising.
14. Up in arms
very angry; agitated and ready to fight:
The employees were up in arms when the health insurance costs went up.
15. Value added
value-added products or services are worth more because they have been improved or something was added:
When we added personal coaching hours to the online video course, we created a value added experience that enhanced the attractiveness of the product and therefore improved sales.
16. Walking a tightrope between
in a sensitive situation, to behave carefully and deliberately. To avoid an error when a small misstep can produce a big problem ; choosing between two things (often opposing things). Note: a tightrope is a rope or a “high wire” such as in a circus:
It was difficult to do my job as it always seemed like I was walking a tightrope between one manager and another.
accepting something or someone despite problems or flaws; ignoring or accepting unattractive features:
I have some issues with my boss, but overall I like working for him, warts-and-all.
18. Weigh in on
to clearly and directly give one’s opinion about something:
Roger is making over $100,000 a year. I’d like to weigh in on the decision of what he gets paid for next year.
19. Worth a fortune
worth a large amount of money:
The coffee franchise was worth a fortune.
20. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours
to offer help in exchange for help. Watch out! This can sometimes have a “shady” (=disreputable) quality about it:
If you help me out with my social media strategy, I swear I will like every one of your posts!
OK… that’s it for the Business English Idiom Lesson Chapter 4. We hope you benefit from our series of 4 business English idiom lessons 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