Business English idioms improve and enrich professional communications with “tried and true” expressions that “pack a big punch.” This alphabetical business English idioms list is Chapter 2 in our idiom series. It follows our previous idiom post, “20 Business English Idioms Explained, Chapter 1.” If you have not already seen Chapter 1, and if you want to start at the beginning, go to “Learn 20 Business English Idioms, Chapter 1.”
Let’s review the topic of business English idioms. Idioms are fixed phrases (collocations) used to communicate in a nonliteral way. Idiomatic phrases are often visual, sometimes funny, and usually create little “word pictures” in the mind of the listener. English idioms are challenging for those who speak English as a second language because the words cannot be translated literally, and the idioms must be spoken correctly, “word for word.” Any word reordering or substitutions may cause communication failure. Or laughter. Or both!
1. Down and out ?
Poor; without hope.
Example: Although my friend’s company looked pretty down and out last year, this year it’s making a comeback.
2. Down for the count ☹️
Unlikely to recover.
Example: I was so sick when I had Covid that I really thought I was down for the count, but thank God, I’m feeling fine now.
3. Down on my luck ?
Having had bad experiences; feeling that the prospects are not good; feeling like a loser: feeling unlucky.
Example: I was feeling really down on my luck after I was rejected for five positions.
4. Down to the wire ?
Unsettled or incomplete until the very last moment or deadline. To the very end; finishing with no time to spare.
Example: Suzanna worked right down to the wire on the grant proposal. She barely finished in time.
5. Fallout ?
Negative consequences; bad results after an event, change or decision.
Example: The fallout from the merger was terrible; hundreds of people were laid off.
6. Fast track a project ⏩
Make something a priority; to speed up the delivery/completion date.
Example: My boss said that we needed to fast track the reports.
7. Filthy rich ??
Extremely rich. Having a ridiculously large amount of wealth. Like the people in the header image on this page.
Example: The owner of that fast food franchise started with nothing, and now he is filthy rich.
8. Full plate ?
A lot of work to do or problems to deal with.
Example: The accountant certainly had a full plate completing our income tax forms by the deadline.
9. Get off to a flying start ✈️
To begin an activity very smoothly and successfully.
Example: The new marketing campaign got off to a flying start; sales immediately increased.
10. Get off my back! ?
To ask someone to stop over managing, pressuring or criticizing you.
Example: I had to tell my new colleague to get off my back. She was always telling me how to do my job. (Note: Watch out, this is quite strong and could offend someone.)
11. Give someone a big hand ??
To give a round of applause; to show appreciation.
Example: The managers gave the sales team a big hand when they closed the million euro deal.
12. Glass ceiling ?
An unofficially acknowledged, invisible barrier to advancement in a profession, especially affecting women and members of minorities.
Example: It seemed impossible to break the glass ceiling until several women made it to the C-suite.
13. Golden handshake ?
A nice severance package, often arranged in advance.
Example: Don’t worry about Phyllis. She got a nice golden handshake when they let her go.
14. Get off on the wrong foot with someone ?
To begin a relationship in a way that is awkward, uncomfortable and likely to fail.
Example: Sheila, the new hire, got off on the wrong foot with her colleagues, and now they are all mad at her.
15. Go for it ?
To do something with passion, even when you think you will fail. Often used to encourage someone.
Example: I did not think I had any chance to get that management job, but my partner said, “Just go for it!”, and I did. I got the job!
16. Have a gut feeling ?
To feel something intuitively.
Example: The HR department manager had a gut feeling that the job candidate would not fit on the team.
17. Heads will roll ?
People will get penalized or fired.
Example: OMG, the last project was a fiasco. We lost a lot of money and now, heads will roll!
18. Head something off at the pass ?
To stop something from happening.
Example: The president of the company anticipated a lawsuit, so he headed it off at the pass by offering a big cash settlement to the unhappy client.
19. Her bark is worse than her bite ?
Someone sounds meaner than they really are.
Example: Don’t worry about her. She sounds tough, but her bark is worse than her bite.
20. In the doghouse ?
When people are mad at you; to be in disfavor or disgrace, as though you are being punished.
Example: I think I am in the doghouse because of some things I said in the meeting. I guess I offended some people.
OK! That was the first half of the business English idioms chapter 2 list. Now let’s carry on and “keep this show on the road.” (= keep the action going; keep everything moving)
21. It’s a gold mine ?
Very valuable and capable of producing ongoing wealth.
Example: Wow! That new stock has turned out to be a gold mine.
22. It’s a rip-off ?
Something intended to exploit others for money; a product or service that is deliberately overpriced or of poor quality.
Example: They bought some new software that was really expensive, but I think it was just a big rip-off.
23. It’s a steal ?
Something that is very under-priced; a real bargain; great value for the money.
Example: The department store is offering 50% off on all designer brand winter coats. That’s a real steal!
24. Keep everyone on their toes ?
Keep people alert; energetic, attentive, motivated, productive.
Example: The owner of that IT company is famous for keeping the sales team on their toes with great incentives.
25. Keep everything on track ?️
Work according to a schedule or project plan.
Example: Your role as project officer is to ensure that you keep everything on track.
26. Keep our heads above water ??
To manage to survive, especially financially; to keep up with one’s work.
Example: In Covid times, the restaurant owner was able to keep his head above water by adding home delivery.
27. Money to burn ?
To have a lot of money to spend on things that are not necessary.
Example: The CEO had money to burn, so he totally redecorated his office with expensive antiques.
28. My gut tells me ?
To have a strong, intuitive feeling about something.
Example: My gut tells me that we should not expand our product line right now.
29. No BS ?
BS means bullshit. No BS is the opposite of BS. This is casual English and should be used with care as any reference to the word “shit” can be seen by some people as rude, crude or offensive.
Example: There is no BS with my boss; she is very direct and always “tells it like it is.”
30. On top of trends ?
To be aware of and responding to changes, direction of changes and their prevalence as it relates to your business.
Example: We hired someone to keep on top of trends so our company could be more competitive.
31. Out of line with ?
Not consistent with expectations; different than the norm.
Example: If your pay is out of line with your peers’ pay, it’s time to make an appointment with the boss.
32. Pay through the nose ??
To pay too much for something.
Example: We are always paying through the nose for paper that can be found cheaper somewhere else.
33. Pay top dollar ?
To pay a lot of money for something.
Example: The customer paid top dollar for the new car with all the gadgets.
34. Pick your brains ?
Obtain information by questioning someone who is better informed about a subject than oneself.
Example: I picked her brains about the company I am interviewing with, so now I think I have a good idea how to pitch myself in the interview.
35. Play it by ear ??
To do something by feel and instinct rather than with a plan, to improvise.
Example: The meeting will be held sometime next week, but we can’t decide on a day and time yet. We’ll just have to play it by ear.
36. Price skyrocketed ?
Increase quickly to a very high level or amount.
Example: The real estate prices skyrocketed last year. Now I can’t afford a house in the city center.
37. Pull the wool over someone’s eyes ??
To deceive someone.
Example: Working there is not at all what I expected! I think the interviewer really pulled the wool over my eyes when she described the friendly working environment.
38. Put your money where your mouth is??
To support something that you believe in, especially by giving/spending money on it.
Example: They keep promising an office refurbishment, but they never get around to it. It’s time they put their money where their mouth is!
39. Put in a good word ?️
Say something positive about someone; often to a person with greater power.
Hey, can you put in a good word about me with the HR department? I really think I am ready for a promotion.
OK… that’s it for this Chapter 2 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