Business Lingo – What’s New in the World of Business Language Jargon?

People say jargon is a bad thing, but it's really a shortcut vocabulary professionals use to understand one another.  - Erin McKean, an American lexicographer

Let’s face it. The world of work in the 21st century is rapidly changing. The use of computers and the Internet in workplaces is common. The influence of technology continues to impact employee skills. There is a presence of increased global competition. Workers and management embrace confidence in their jobs, in communicating, and in people skills. It is no wonder that the use of specialized words and expressions by particular groups is expanding, as well.

This article attempts to show and explain some more commonly used business jargon, “…a shortcut vocabulary professionals use to understand one another.” It is written to help you better understand the voice of the business world today and into the future. Hopefully it will help you learn some English that is practical and necessary in your present jobs and schooling. Who knows? You might even want to study English further, online or in a multitude of additional ways.


Action items – In management, an action item is a documented event, task, activity or action that needs to take place, usually by a single person.

I need to stay late at work today to get my action items for the boss completed by the end of the week.

Ahead in the count - Shows that you are doing well and are ahead of your peer competitors

The stats show that the marketing campaign is ahead in the count.


Bait and switch – A method in sales when a customer is attracted by an advertisement of a lower priced product but then is encouraged to purchase a more expensive one

That bait and switch tactic seemed to work; most viewers of the online ads ordered a more sophisticated computer and accessories than the sale item.

Ballpark - A range (as of prices or views) within which comparison or compromise is possible

The manager said that sales were hitting the ballpark figure for this year.

Behind the eight ball - In a highly disadvantageous position

The new sales director was hired to bring up the slumping sales that have been down for years. He was really behind the eight ball.

Benchmarking/Benchmark – Something that can be used as a way to judge the quality or level of similar things

The benchmark for the executive-in-training program was set really high.

Best practice - Tried and tested methodology or practice

One of the best practices is to focus on customer service.

Blue-sky thinking - A visionary idea without always having a practical application

Having a brainstorming session that allowed blue-sky thinking was perfect for promoting creativity.

Boil the ocean - To attempt to do something that is impossible

The small convenience store wanted to boil the ocean and surpass the larger stores so they increased their product line this month and plan to cut prices the following month.

Bottleneck - Where a process is held up, especially in manufacturing

The production manager traced the bottleneck to a malfunctioning machine.

Bullish – Positive about the future of something or someone; expecting economic activity in general to rise

The investors were bullish about the new fast-food restaurant near the college campus.


Cascade - Array of possible actions to take in response to a problem; protocol

The cascade was followed in an attempt to satisfy the customer and resolve the complaint.

Change – To undergo transformation or transition

The method of advertising needed a complete change to compete with the overseas market.

Circular file – A waste basket

The secretary finally cleared her desk and tossed all the unnecessary papers in the circular file.

Compensation actions – Something given as an equivalent for service, debt, loss , injury or suffering; attempts to make up for some real or imagined deficiency of personality or behavior by developing or substituting a different form of behavior

The store came up with some compensation actions that appealed to the customers when they ran out of the product in demand.

Competitive advantage - When an organization acquires or develops an attribute or combination of attributes that allows it to outperform its competitors

I think their service had a competitive advantage when they offered free pick-up.

Conference call – A telephone call in which the calling party wishes to have more than one called party listen in to the audio portion of the call

An important conference call was set for 10 a.m. sharp for the three department heads to determine the deadline for the new product line.

Conflict resolution - Otherwise known as reconciliation, is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved (active communication and negotiation) in facilitating the peaceful ending of conflict and retribution

The personnel manager often used conflict resolution to mediate between individuals who did not get along.

Constraints – Limitations or restrictions

The new company rules had constraints of when you could take scheduled breaks.Connect ear-to-ear - This simply means to speak about the project over the phone

The company headquarters overseas

connected ear-to-ear with the local branch office on a monthly basis.

Cookies - Specifies computer terminology referring to the saved web passwords, websites, and your shopping cart preferences

Please disable your cookies from your browser.

Core competency - A defining capability or advantage that distinguishes an enterprise from its competitors

The restaurant’s core competency was their fresh, healthy foods.

Cost avoidance – An expense that is avoided

We closed the company office on the weekends in a cost avoidance measure to save on employee salaries and utilities.

Cracker jack – Of excellent quality or ability“It sure was a cracker jack of an idea!” the boss shouted as he gave me a promotion.Critical thinker – A way of thinking about any subject, content, or problem in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it

I admired the team for being such great critical thinkers and figuring out how to cut the cost of distributing our new products.

Cubicle farm - A section of the office that contains worker's cubicles

The cubicle farm was expanded to make room for the new employee

Cutting edge practices - The leading position in any field; forefront

Our manufacturing firm prides itself on its cutting edge practices.


Deliverables – A tangible or intangible object produced as a result of the project that is intended to be delivered to a customer like a report, a document, a server upgrade or any other building block of an overall project

The deliverables were due this Friday so the manager could give the power point presentation to the Board Members.

Desk job - Term for a job that is typically confined to duties from a desk, rather than one that requires standing or moving around

I used to supervise workers out in the field, but now I have a desk job and write reports.

Diagnosis - Identification of a condition, disorder or problem by systematic analysis of the background or history, examination of the signs or symptoms, evaluation of the research or test results, and investigation of the assumed or probably causes

The end-of-the-year retreat was focused on the diagnosis of the revenue that had fallen behind the target.

Downsize – To make something smaller, usually referred to decreasing the amount of workers.Rumor has it that the insurance company in town is going to downsize.

Drink our own champagne - A term meaning that a business will use the same product that they sell to their customers

We decided to drink our own champagne to see how well the new cellular device really worked before marketing it to the public.


End-user perspective - What the customer thinks about a product or service; an indicator of a how a client would feel after having used the product or service

It was important to consider the end-user perspective in evaluating the new system.

Enterprise - a project or undertaking, typically one that is difficult or requires effort; a business or company

Our team was assigned the enterprise of creating overseas packaging that would appeal to new markets.

Excellence – the quality of being outstanding or good

The company motto certainly embraced excellence and I was proud to be an employee.


Face time - The time spent with a customer or client in person as opposed to on the phone or online

I enjoyed the face time with customers so my manager transferred me full-time to the Customer Service Department.

Fall guy – A scapegoat

I was tired of being seen as the fall guy for my team and I decided to look for another job.

Free lunch - Something beneficial that comes at no cost or that carries no obligations

I heard that the new computer company offers flexible hours, an onsite day care, and a state-of-the-art gym facility --- what a free lunch!

Food chain – A competitive hierarchy

I worked myself up the food chain and now am a company supervisor.


Gatekeeper - One who monitors or oversees the actions of others

The gatekeeper kept everyone working hard and he allowed few distractions on-line.Game changer - a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way

The game changer was when we switched to those neon colors for the sports clothes and when we used athletic models to attract the younger consumer.

Game theory - The analysis of a situation involving conflicting interests in terms of gains and losses among opposing players

The Board Members focused on game theory and finally agreed on the company’s new direction.

Get our ducks in a row - Order and organize everything efficiently and effectively

The business closed for a few days to get their ducks in a row before they opened for the clearance sale.

Give it 110% - To exert full effort

I was proud of my friend who got the raise; he always gives it 110%!

Golden handshake – A large amount of money that a company gives to an employee who is leaving the company

My father was given a golden handshake when he retired from his position at the firm.

Golden parachute – A large amount of money that a company pays to an executive who is being forced to leave the company as in the case of a merger

Unfortunately, there was a buyout of the paper factory, so my uncle who served as vice-president was given a golden parachute. Now, he is looking for a new job.


Hammer it (everything) out - To work out the details of something

The working meeting hammered it (everything) out so the company merger seemed flawless.

Hard copy - A physical print-out of a document rather than an electronic copy

The secretary gave me a hard copy of the data so I could complete the accounting report.

Head count – To count the number of people present

There was a head count taken at the shareholder’s meeting.

Headhunter - A recruiter of personnel for corporations

The headhunter found several candidates to interview for the new IT position.

Heavy lifting - This refers to the most difficult aspects of a project

Our department was in charge of the heavy lifting for the promotion which proved to be quite successful

Hired guns – Specialized professionals hired by an organization

There was so much work to do so I was happy that the hired guns could be assigned to our department.

Hub - an idea which other ideas are linked to

The main hub was “healthy living” and the products and service related to that concept.


Individual contributor – An employee who is not part of a team

The individual contributor came up with the slogan and the team perfected it.

Initiative - The power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do

The new employee showed lots of initiative and he was quickly promoted.

In the black – Having positive net income

When the company was in the black, the employees received a bonus.

In the red - Spending more money that is earned; losing money

When the company was in the red, there was not enough money for employee bonuses.


Joined-up thinking - Discussing the viewpoints of each organization and coming to an agreement or compromise

The joined-up thinking helped determine the direction of the merger.


Kept in the loop - This is a common phrase used to mean a person who is informed about what's going on with a project or plan

I liked being kept in the loop about the company’s decisions in its overseas markets.


Land and expand - To sell a small solution to a client and then once the solution has been sold, to expand upon the same solution in the client's environment

He was good at what he did. The idea was to land and expand the computer system for the realtor company. First, just a few computers would do, and then they could add more in the future.

Leadership - The action of leading a group of people or an organization.

The head of the company demonstrated great leadership skills.

Lean forward and Lean back media –  Lean forward implies a deeper engagement with the content like sharing with friends on Facebook, tweeting about it on Twitter and interacting in real-time; Lean back media is about passively consuming content like watching television

The news show embraced more of a lean forward concept and everyone was talking about the features on Facebook, while the commercials catered to the lean back media.

Learning experience – You make mistakes as you learn and the experience is to teach skills, etc.

Losing the client was a real learning experience.

Let’s touch base on that – To get in contact with

The managers touched base on marketing strategies. .


Mad as a hornet – Very angry; raged

My boss was mad as a hornet when I accidentally deleted the sales presentation.

Mastery - comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment

The employee demonstrated mastery in sales; he never lost a client.

Matrix organization - An organizational structure that facilitates the horizontal flow of skills and information

Our company was a matrix organization where we all reported to just one boss.

Momentum – the strength or force that allows something to continue or to grow stronger or faster as time passes

The success last quarter enabled us to build momentum.Moving forward - getting things accomplished or making progress

After numerous delays, the team is moving forward with the project.

Moving target – The goal that is difficult to be reached

Each year, I wrote my professional goals but they always seemed to be moving targets.


No call, no show - An individual who shows up for the day or calls in with a reason

The prospective client didn’t show up for the meeting; he was a no call, no show.


Off the shelf - Not designed or made to order but taken from existing stock or supplies

We bought most of the parts off the shelf, but had to order the less common parts.

Outcomes – An end result; a consequence.

There are too many potential outcomes of this decision.

Out of pocket - Paid for with your own money rather than with money from another source (such as the company you work for or an insurance company)

After the car crash, most of the damages were paid for by my insurance, there was almost nothing I had to pay out of pocket.


Paradigm shift – A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions

The new management team encouraged a paradigm shift in the way we do business.

Partnership - The state of being a partner or partners

The two sales representatives made a great partnership for their new company.

Practical application - The act of bringing something to bear; using it for a particular purpose

The new program didn’t have any practical application.Process - A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end

The developmental process was filled with complications.

Push back - Cause to move back by force or influence

We were experiencing a major push back from the rival company,

Pushing the envelope - This basically means to go outside of what is seen as normal corporate boundaries in order to attain a goal or secure a target

The business sent multiple gifts to its partner to push the envelope on the merger.

Put to bed - to complete work on something and send it on to the next step in production, especially in publishing

After the completion of the project, it’s good to know we can finally put it to bed.


Raft of measures - A collection of proposals or schemes

At the board meeting, the new chairman introduced a raft of measures to improve profits.

Recommendation - a suggestion or proposal as to the best course of action, especially one put forward by an authoritative body

The consultant recommended we revamp our marketing strategy to acquire new customers.

Requirements - a singular documented physical and functional need that a particular design, product or process must be able to perform

Our product fits the environmental requirements.

Revenue growth - This ratio measures the percentage increase or decrease in the current year’s revenue in relation to the prior year’s revenue.With the new strategy, the company experienced substantial revenue growth, enabling them to invest in more avenues of company expansion.

Revenue mix - The relative contribution of quantities of products or services that constitutes total revenues

We need to diversify; our revenue mix is highly dependent on one product. If sales for that product slow, then the business will go bankrupt.

Right-size - To make a company smaller and more efficient by reducing the number of workers

There was no other option other than to right-size so the company could make ends meet.

Rubber check - a written check that does not have the funds available to be deemed good; a bounced check

Be on the look-out for customers who have written rubber checks in the past. We must monitor their credit.


Seat at the table - A position as a member of a group that makes decisions

After years of serving the company, the manager was finally offered a seat at the table for executive decisions.

Showcase - A setting in which someone or something may be displayed

The new product was showcased at the shareholder meeting.

Show stopper – Something that deserves praise and is viewed in awe

The advanced hard drive in the new computer was a real show stopper in the technology industry.

Silver bullet - One solution for everything

Taking out a large loan is not a silver bullet for this company.

Stakeholders - every group or individual affected by the outcome of a decision

Closing down this business would upset the stakeholders.

Standards - a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable

The new car set the standards for safety and luxury.

State-of-the-art - Refers to the highest level of general development, as of a device, technique, or scientific field achieved at a particular time

Robotics are the state-of-the-art for manufacturing.

Superior advantage/performance – A quality or performance that is better than normal expectation

Our product had a superior advantage/performance, leading many customers to buy from us.

Supply chain - a channel of distribution beginning with the supplier of materials or components, extending through a manufacturing process to the distributor and retailer, and ultimately to the consumer

The length of the supply chain required many different inputs, making assembly difficult.

Synergy - The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects

Our two companies have a great synergy that allows us to succeed more together than we ever could accomplish alone.

System - A group of interacting, interrelated, or interdependent elements forming a complex whole

The system at work was flawless:  good management, good employees, and a good product.


Talk turkey - To speak frankly and get down to the basic facts of a matterI didn’t like it when the team leader always talked turkey at the weekly meetings; he needed to lighten up a bit.Teamwork - the work done by people who work together as a team to do something

I loved the feeling of teamwork in helping complete the project.

Tent pole - the task or item most likely to delay a project or consume the most resources

The final review was the tent pole that delayed the project by two months.

The helicopter view - An overview of a job or a project

It was important to sit back and take a helicopter view of the new project before beginning.

Think outside the box - This term means to not limit your thinking; it encourages creativity with regards to your job description

I enjoyed the opportunity to think outside the box and to design many advertising slogans for the direct marketing campaign.

Thought leader- refers to an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded

My business associate was seen as a thought leader for the company; his educational background and experience were noteworthy.

Time frame - A period during which something takes place or is projected to occur

The time frame was extended to complete the work.


Under-pinning - The foundations of an idea, which helps another related scheme or proposal

The under-pinning for the baseball stadium fundraiser came from the football booster club’s fall fundraiser.

Unique selling proposition (USP) - The factor or consideration presented by a seller as the reason that one product or service is different from and better than that of the competition

The seller spoke of the unique selling proposition of the home-made pastries.


Value added - refers to "extra" feature(s) of an item of interest (product, service, person etc.) that goes beyond the standard expectations and provides something "more" while adding little or nothing to its cost

There was a lot of value added to the cosmetic line and the sales took off. The customers liked getting the cosmetic case free with an order of more than $50 of products and a chance to win free products in the monthly drawing.


Win-win situation - A solution where all parties are satisfied with the results

Finally, the workers’ strike ended after a win-win situation was discussed and agreed upon.

With all due respect – Expression used to diffuse the impact of an insult and to be polite in doing so

With all due respect, I disagree with the President’s decision regarding the salary freeze for employees.

Womb to tomb - continuing through life

I have known Laura all my life, from womb to tomb.

Work it out – Come to an agreement for resolution

We’ll work it out” was what my boss always said and we were assured that a solution would be reached.


Zero sum game - A situation in which a gain by one person or side must be matched by a loss by another person or side

We played the zero sum game until a decision was reached; I had to move two people from my department to IT to get the overflow of funds from their department grant to complete the project.


There’s more business jargon that I’ll share at another time. As for now, let me know what you think of this article and if you have any stories to share about using any of these expressions. You might have some suggestions on learning English. Oh, and by the way, if I can help you with your business English or any other ESL language learning needs, use the comments section below to write about them. There’s a few articles on business idioms you might enjoy reading. And there are some suggestions on learning ESL. Until next time, I wish you steady momentum on your language goals this new year and always.

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