by Marc Anderson

52 Most Common Business Idioms from the New York Times to Make Your Business English Spectacular

Businessman with hand writing pictures

1. Hand in hand

2. Same boat

3. Multi-task

4. Cut corners

5. Between a rock and a hard place

I suppose some people buy the New York Times to read about technology or international news.  Others enjoy reading about science or health, sports or politics. Then there is the group that turns first to the editorials or the classifieds, the fashion section, real estate pages or even the job market listings. Still others enjoy the crosswords and the daily bridge tips.  But my main reason to read the New York Times is the business section, several pages of up-to-date articles about the latest news from the business world.

In doing so, I have come to notice the word choices in the business articles and how these go hand in hand (together; along with) with the goal of my company TalktoCanada.  We help with online teaching of English to a myriad of students all over the world. I’ve finally narrowed the top 50 (okay, 52) business idioms down that I continually see in the New York Times. I realize that if you study and learn these idioms, you are well on your way to understanding business English.

In starting TalktoCanada about 7 years ago, I am reminded daily of the rewards and challenges of owning a large and growing business.  Maybe you are in the same boat (in the same situation) as I am and you also own a business or you are thinking of starting one.  Maybe you work in a business or deal with businesses on a daily basis in the course of your workday.  Well, I’ve learned to multi-task (do many things at once) along the way as there is seldom enough time to get everything done.  One thing I promise myself is that I will not cut corners (do something the cheapest or easiest way) or sacrifice quality in what is provided to our students. Even at times when I’ve been between a rock and a hard place (a dilemma; two possibilities that are not good), I will always put our students and staff first.

6. Start-up

7. Blow you away

8. Ahead of the game

9. Go for broke

10. Game plan

11. Go down swinging

12.  A long shot

Some of the start-ups (new businesses aimed at new markets) that are surfacing around the world will just blow you away (affect intensely; overwhelm). The products and services seem way ahead of the game (successful). Many of these entrepreneurs decided to go for broke (wagering everything) after developing a strong game plan (the strategy of reaching an objective).  When faced with opposition, they were determined to go down swinging (keep trying until the end) even when others said it was a long shot (something that will probably not succeed but is worth trying).

13. Trade-off

14. Fall through the cracks

15. Burn out (rate)

16. Miss the boat

17. Land on your feet

You see, I think the trade-off (to lose something in return of gaining something) of owning your own business is that you have more control of your business.  Sure there are a lot of things, many almost overwhelming at times that might fall through the cracks (to be forgotten; to fail) and the burn out rate (physical or mental exhaustion) is quite high. But, if you’re like me, you don’t want to miss the boat (miss an opportunity) so you’ll do everything in your power to land on your feet (to do well; to succeed).

18. Take the bull by the horns

19. On the same page

20. See eye to eye

21. Think out of the box

22. Give and take

23.  Meeting someone halfway

24. Cut to the chase

25. Shot (shoot) from the hip

26. Bent over backwards

27.  Water over the bridge

28. Win-win situation

I’ve learned to be adaptable.  There are times when I need to take the bull by the horns (to confront a problem head on) and just do it.  There are times when I must move more slowly and make sure everyone else is on the same page (have the same understanding or knowledge) and that we all see eye to eye (to be in agreement) as we move together.  There are other times when the same practices are important to continue and then there are times to think out of the box (to think differently from a new perspective) for new innovation.  I have learned the gentle art of give and take (free flowing of ideas and conversation; making a deal by trading) and the importance of meeting someone halfway (compromise).  You might have similar stories of how you had to cut to the chase (to focus on what’s important) or how you shot from the hip (impromptu, spontaneous, spur of the moment reaction or decision) or bent over backwards (try hard to please; go out of the way) in your workings with others.  And, when there are disagreements, you may have put these aside and considered them water under the bridge (something that has happened and can’t be changed) so you could have a win-win situation (a situation in which everyone participating come out on top; everyone wins or gets what they want).

29. Ball rolling

30. On the right track

31. Screw up

32. In the office loop

33.  Ahead of the curve

Well, it’s great that you have decided to study English.  Communication is one of the keys to success in business.  It helps to get the ball rolling (a situation in which everyone participating came out on top; everyone won or got what they wanted) and to keep you on the right track (to continue on the right path or process) so there’s less chance of a screw up (not doing well; a mistake).  When everyone is in the office loop (understands what’s happening), the business has more of a chance to be ahead of the curve (doing better than expected).

34.  Take off

35.  In the black

36. Kickback

37. On the ball

38. Shooting the breeze

39.  Stay on your toes

40. Know the ropes

41.  Troubleshoot

42.  Get the bugs out

43.  Bummed out

When your business begins to take off (move ahead and do well) and get in the black (become profitable opposed to being “in the red”), you can kickback (rest and enjoy your time) a little.  You must always be on the ball (to be alert and aware), but some time can be spent shooting the breeze (talking casually without purpose).  You still need to stay on your toes (pay attention and be aware) but having a little less pressure and a little more freedom will remind you of why you got in the business in the first place.  You’ll know the ropes (have knowledge of) and be able to troubleshoot (solve problems) with confidence to get the bugs out (find the mistakes or prevent problems) and not get so bummed out (tired out or stressed out).

44.  Raise the bar

45. Play it by ear

46. Punch to the gut

47. Hold your horses

48. Jump the gun

49.  Drop the ball

50. Keep pace

51. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too

52. Stay on top of things

Now you might be thinking how to raise the bar (to raise standards or expectations) in your business or in your job.  Do you just play it by ear (decide to deal with something how it happens rather than planning) or punch to the gut (give it all you’ve got)?  Do you hold your horses (slow down and wait or move slowly) or jump the gun (get a head start or move quickly)?  Do you drop the ball (fail to do your job or to do well) or keep pace (continue on)? On second thought, if you’ve gotten this far in this article you definitely have taken some steps to becoming better at English.  So reward yourself.  Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it, too (you can’t have it both ways; you can’t have the best of both worlds)? Yes, I’ve been fortunate.  Call it perseverance. Call it hard work or luck. My own business and continued progress in Improving the World with Better Communication.

Do write to me and tell me how you’ve used these idioms.  Also, If you have any idioms that you read in a business magazine or paper that aren’t in this list please let me know by commenting below.  And remember, this is one way of continuing to improve your business English. Actually, to make it spectacular!  I think I’ll ask for a subscription to the Times for my birthday. You know, just to stay on top of things (learn and know what’s happening).

About the author:

Marc Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of TalktoCanada. Since founding the company in 2006, he has grown it to over 25 staff with operations in 50 countries. Marc spends his time outside of TalktoCanada travelling, playing with his son and working on new business projects.

  • Dan Didi

    This is a good list of business idioms. I like how you structured the paragraph with the idioms. I think it is a wonderful idea. Business Idioms are the best way for students to get to the next fluency level. I use business idioms with my students everyday. http://improveenglishfluency.com/ Thanks for sharing!

  • Haga Mes’da Muhammad

    Great job! thnxxx 🙂