using business idioms in conversation


In the corporate world, a plethora of business idioms is used every day. Brush up your knowledge of expressions, so you won’t get lost in a conversation. And yes, it pays to know the basics because people around you expect that you do.

What are idioms?

An idiom is a verbal habit that is often unique to a specific language. Although once you understand the meaning behind it, you may use it consistently as long as who you are talking to understands its meaning as well. An idiom doesn’t have a literal meaning; its structure is fixed. Verbatim albeit professional translation is not possible. At times, the grammar rules may not apply.

Why use idioms?

Learning the proper use of idioms adds color to communication. It makes any conversation more effective and expressive hence these are considered as the nuts and bolts of discussion.

Business idioms to learn


24 hours a day, seven days a week
e.g. Our online storefront operates 24/7.

ahead of the curve

Be more advanced than the competition
e.g. The company invests heavily in innovative ideas to stay ahead of the curve.

at stake

At risk
e.g. There is too much at stake, but someone’s got to do this pitch.

back to square one

Start something over again
e.g. After identifying a bug on the website that wipes all the data, we are back to square one.

ballpark figure

A very inexact estimate
e.g. If you are going to ask for the overall cost of a holistic digital marketing, I can only give you a ballpark figure for now.

big picture

Entire perspective of a situation
e.g. When creating personal goals, always think of the big picture

by the book

Do things according to written laws or policies; follow without deviating from the rules
e.g. Being watched by the auditors, we need to do everything by the book.

cave in

Agree to a particular thing that the person initially disagrees with
e.g. The union won the case, but the management refuses to cave in.

change of pace

A change in routine or schedule
e.g. A weekend trip on the coastal is a much-needed change of pace.

cut corners

To take shortcuts or find an easier albeit cheaper way of doing something
e.g. When the business is just breaking even, it’s high time to cut corners.

cut losses

Stop doing a particular thing that generates no results
e.g. Our social media marketing campaign is not showing any real results. Hence, we cut our losses long before we bleed out of marketing budget.

from the ground up

Start something from scratch, from zero
e.g. Mark Zuckerberg and his Harvard friend built Facebook from the ground up.

game plan

A strategy or plan
e.g. Don’t proceed with the start-up venture without a solid game plan.

get down to business

Stop making small talks and start talking or getting serious
e.g. Let’s get down to business starting with goal setting.

get something off the ground

Start a project or business
e.g. We should get this project off the ground immediately after the kickoff.

go down the drain

A waste or loss
e.g. All our efforts go down the drain with just one no from the C-suite.

go the extra mile

Do more than what is being told or expected
e.g. When providing services, it’s always nice to go the extra mile.

gray area

Something cannot be easily defined or categorized
e.g. Laws often have loopholes or gray areas that are being used by some people.

hit the nail on the head

100% correct
e.g. His claims about nuclear weapon hit the nail on the head.

in a nutshell

Briefly, concisely or in a few words
e.g. In a nutshell, the movie is about loving and letting go.

in the black

Making a profit
e.g. It’s a great year so far for the company; we’re in the black.

in the red

Operating at a loss
e.g. The company is not even breaking even; it’s in the red.

learn the ropes

Learn the basics
e.g. You need to learn the ropes first before embarking to upskill.

lose ground

Lose a competitive advantage
e.g. Nokia clearly lost some ground to major mobile phone manufacturers.


Normal working hours
e.g. Lucky freelancers, they are not tied with any nine-to-five.

no brainer

An obvious or simple decision
e.g. Attending online courses is a no-brainer.

no time to lose

Every second counts toward finishing something
e.g. Since the deadline is near, the team has no time to lose.

not going to fly

A solution that cannot be implemented
e.g. I’m telling you, “That crappy theme will not going to fly.”

on the ball

Be alert and aware of things happening around
e.g. Since you’re a new hire, you should be on the ball always.

on the same page

In agreement about something
e.g. Before we start this campaign, let’s do a final roundup to see if we’re on the same page.

out in the open

A public knowledge
e.g. Now that everything’s out in the open, no one will suspect that you’re into corporate espionage.

pink slip

Fired by the employer
e.g. He wasn’t performing well, so the HR Manager decided to give him a pink slip.

raise the bar

Set the standards or expectations higher
e.g. People rave about the new app in the market. With its strong features, it really raised the bar for the app developers.

read between the lines

Understand what’s being said, suggested or implied without having to communicate it directly
e.g. Just read between the lines—she’ll tender a resignation letter soon.

run around the circles

Do the same things again and again
e.g. We are throwing around ideas but cannot agree on one. Indeed, we are just running around the circles.

sever ties

End a relationship
e.g. Due to the taxation scandal, our company severed ties with its longtime accounting firm.

shoot something down

Reject something
e.g. Before shooting down the ideas of the people, learn how each idea can contribute to achieving our goals.

stand one’s ground

Stick to one’s position or opinion
e.g. I cannot be swayed by office jealousy that why I always stand my own ground.

take the bull by the horns

Confront an otherwise difficult situation directly
e.g. Serving a memo is not without difficulties but someone needs to take the bull by the horns to address ineffectiveness.

touch base

Make contact with another person
e.g. Touching base through email is completely acceptable.

upper hand

Having an advantage
e.g. She is more experienced than her colleagues. Thus, she always has the upper hand.