101 Business Idioms For Everyday Use At Work

Business IdiomsHere is a list of 101 business idioms that are commonly used in the corporate world. Each idiom is clearly explained with a definition and an example of practical usage.

Once you have read through the list, you can also take a quiz to test and reinforce the material. A PDF copy of these frequently used work idioms could be downloaded as well.

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Back to square one


To get back to from where it started


We went back to square one after wasting two full days.


Back to the drawing board


To start from the beginning, all over again


We went back to the​​ drawing board after our plan was rejected.


Back-room  ​​​​ boys


People who do important work but aren't visible to general public


He resented being a backroom boy when Dave took all the credit.


Ball park figure


A rough estimate


Can you give me a​​ ballpark figure as to what this project will cost?


Bang for the buck


Something that gives you more value than the money you spent


Online ads provide more bang for the buck than TV commercials.




Someone who does manual labor work


Joe is​​ a blue-collar worker at the company warehouse.


Bottom line


The final total of the account or the ultimate deciding factor


I don't need any details. All I care about is the bottom line.


Brain drain



Loss of an educated workforce to other​​ geographic locations


France suffered a brain drain during the economic crisis.


Break even​​ 


To have no profit or loss at the end of a business activity


It took us two years just to break even.



Busman's holiday



Spending your time doing the same​​ thing you do at work


The painter spent busman's holiday 

painting his own house.


By the book


Strictly according to the rules


Rules are not to be broken - Barb does everything by the book.


Call it a day


To stop working and go home


Let’s call it a​​ day and go home.



Call the shots​​ 



To make the important decisions


Who calls the shots when the boss is out of town?


Cash cow


A consistently profitable business or product


That line of leather shoes is a real cash cow.


Cave in



To agree to​​ something, you didn't want to accept previously


The management caved in to the demands of the union.


Climb the corporate ladder


Work your way up to higher positions in a company


He quickly climbed the corporate ladder to become CEO.


Cold call



A​​ call made without an appointment to sell something


Sales people were handed a list of numbers to cold-call.



Cook the books



Alter facts or figures dishonestly or illegally


The mafia boss forced the accountants to cook the books.


Corner a​​ market 


To dominate a market or business


She cornered the market and put two competitors out of business.


Crack the whip



Threatening people to make them work harder


Joe's father had to crack the whip to make him study harder.


Cream of the crop



The best person in a group


Google hires the cream of the crop graduates.


Crunch the numbers​​ 


Do a lot of math calculations to make a decision


They crunched the numbers before buying that new property.


Cut a deal



To reach an agreement


Her agent cut a deal giving her 30% of the profits.


Cut corners


Skip certain steps in order to do 

something as easily or cheaply


Don't hurry. You cannot cut corners if you want to do a perfect job.


Cut to the chase



Get to the point quickly


Joan was very busy, so I cut to the chase and told her the fact.





Very fierce and intense


There is a cut-throat competition to gain the market share.


Dead end job



A job where there is no chance of promotion


I am in a dead-end job and​​ looking for a new opportunity.


Dead wood



Someone or something that is no longer useful


She cleared out the dead wood as 

soon as she took over.


Elephant in the room


A huge problem that no one wants to talk about


Debt crises is the elephant in​​ the room that no one is talking about.


Eleventh hour


The last minute


Eric always waits until the eleventh hour before starting a project.


Fine print


Important details usually printed in​​ 

tiny letters in a contract


Read the fine​​ print before you sign the contract.


Foot in the door


The first step toward a goal by gaining entry into an organization


She got her foot in the door working as a researcher on a TV show.


From the ground up


Starting from the very beginning



Let’s start working on the project from the ground up.


Game plan


Plan of action or a strategy



We need a new game plan for the upcoming season.


Get down to business


Start doing things that need to be done


Let’s get down to business first; we can​​ eat lunch later.


Get The ball rolling



To begin an activity or a process


She tried to get the ball rolling by asking a few questions.


Glass ceiling



An unofficial or social barrier to advancement in a profession


She crushed the glass ceiling to​​ be the first woman president.


Go Through the Roof 


To increase much more than expected


He is rich now because his commissions have gone through the roof.


Golden handcuffs



Special benefits offered to keep an employee from leaving


They hired her​​ with a pair of golden handcuffs.


Golden handshake



A large amount paid as an incentive for early retirement


The new owners offered all employees a golden handshake.


Golden parachute


An employment contract that guarantees great benefits if fired


She is not afraid of getting fired because of the golden parachute.


Gray area


A situation in which it is difficult to distinguish between right & wrong


At the moment, the law on compensation is very much a grey area.


Have your work cut out


Accomplish a difficult task in a short time


He will have his work cut out to get into the team.




To recruit the best people for top-level positions


A rival company headhunted her.


Heads up


To inform or warn about something​​ beforehand


Please give me a heads up if there is any change.


Hit the nail on the head


To give a perfectly correct answer


Tom hit the nail on the head when analyzing the problem.


Hot water



In deep trouble


The company is in hot water because of​​ the declining sales


In a nutshell



A brief summary or in a few words


Tell me in a nutshell what happened in the meeting.


In the black​​ 



A person/organization that is making a profit


We're in the black but we aren't making much money yet.


In​​ the nick of time


To arrive just in time


I got to the meeting just in the nick of time.


In the red


A person/organization that is losing money


We were in the red for two whole years.


In the works


In development; coming soon​​ 



Our new​​ product is in the works.



Jack of all trades



Someone who can do many different jobs


We need someone who is the jack of all trades for this position.


Last straw


Final annoyance that causes you to get angry


He got fired because he skipped the​​ meeting; it was the last straw.


Learn the ropes


Learn how to do a job or activity



It takes a while to learn the ropes in a new job.


Learning curve


The amount of time it takes to learn a new skill


It was a steep learning curve for him as he had​​ no prior experience.


Long shot


Very slim chance of succeeding



I know it's a long shot, but it's worth trying.




Prolonged time and effort


It's going to be a long-haul before the company becomes profitable.


Movers and shakers


People with a lot of power and influence in a particular field


All the movers and shakers of the industry have their offices here.


No brainer


An easy decision that doesn't require much thought


Buying this product at such a discount is a​​ complete no brainer.


No strings attached



No special conditions or restrictions


The investment offers 15% ​​ interest with no strings attached.


Off the top of your head


From memory without much careful consideration


Off the top of my head, the​​ cost was pretty reasonable.


On the back burner



A low priority matter that is put aside for the time being


It's not an urgent issue, lets put it on the back burner for now.


On the same page


Agree with someone on a specific issue


Regarding the​​ offer both partners are on the same page.


Out of the loop


Unaware of the information or an event


I am always out of the loop of the office gossip.


Pencil someone in


To make a tentative appointment



I'll pencil you in for Friday afternoon at​​ 2:00 pm.


Pick brain



Ask for ideas and opinions


I was picking her brain about which 

computer to buy.


Play hardball



Firm and ruthless in getting what you want


He's a nice guy, but he can play hardball 

when he needs to.


Play second fiddle


To​​ be less important or in a weaker 

position than someone else


I'm not prepared to play second fiddle 

to Joe anymore.​​ 


Plum job


An easy job that pays well​​ 



Joe found a plum job using his family connections.


Pull the plug


To stop or to​​ discontinue



The management pulled the plug on long lunch breaks.


Read between the lines


Look for the meaning that was suggested indirectly


Reading between the lines is necessary for complex negotiations.


Red tape​​ 


Excessive​​ rules/regulations that make it hard to do business


Those new laws just create a lot of red tapes.


Rock the boat



To disrupt a situation or cause problems


Don't rock the boat until the 

negotiations have ended.


Round the clock



24 hours a day


We​​ were working round the clock during the exhibition.


Rule of thumb



A guiding principle based on experience and common sense.​​ 


As a rule of thumb, each client should have a separate file.


Safe Bet


Something that is very likely to happen


It is a​​ safe bet that the current owners will not sell.


Same boat



To be in the same difficult situation


None of us has any money, so we’re all in the same boat.


Second nature


A skill so ingrained that you do it without even thinking


Typing​​ becomes second nature after a while.


Selling Like Hotcakes


Sell something very quickly that many people want to buy


I need another load of scanners because they are selling like hotcakes.


Set the record straight


Give the true version of events​​ that have been reported incorrectly


Let me set the record straight about what really happened.


Sever Ties


To end a relationship or an agreement


The company severed ties with their supplier.


Shape up or ship out


A warning to perform well or​​ leave


The management warned the employees to shape up or ship out.


Show the ropes


Show someone how to do a job or activity


Michael will take you around and show you the ropes.


Slack off


Perform unproductively and lazily



Employees tend to​​ slack off on Fridays.



Small talk


Informal conversation about things 

that are not important


Guests stood with their drinks, making small talk about the weather.


Talk shop


Discuss work-related issues in off-work social situations


Let's​​ not talk shop outside office hours.



Test the water


Try something out to see if it works or not


I'd like to test the water first before committing myself.


The ball is in your court


It's up to you to make the next move.


We answered all their​​ questions, so now the ball is in their court


The big picture


To get an overview of the entire situation​​ 


Joe never loses sight of the big picture.


Think outside the box


Explore ideas that are different and non-traditional


He is trying​​ to think outside the box to make this event a success.


Throw in the towel


To admit defeat


After struggling for years, the company finally threw in the towel.


Thrown in the deep end


Put into a difficult situation without any preparation


Lynda was​​ thrown in the deep end right from the first day of her job.


Touch base



Make a brief contact to discuss something


Just wanted to touch base to make sure everything is fine.


Under the table



Something was done secretly and illegally


They offered him money under the table to change his mind.


Up in the air


Still not decided



The board meeting is still up in the air.






Someone who does office work


Jane left the factory for a white-collar position in a local​​ bank.


Win-win situation


A favorable outcome for everyone involved


The compromise was a win-win situation for everyone.


Word of mouth



Oral informal communication between people


Word of mouth is one of the best ways of getting business


Writing on the wall



Clear signs that something bad is about to happen


I can see the writing on the wall that this company is doomed.


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