The Secret World of Business Week and its Top 50 Idioms Found in the Magazine

I had a little free time (a rarity) this week to get caught up on reading some business news and brush up on some business vocabulary. There were some interesting headlines (Business Week – February 2014):

Will Speed Skating Woes Slow Down Under Armour?

Three Ways Comcast Can Win the Future of Television

Sochi’s Broadband Overkill

I relished the time to myself (a rarity). To read. To think. To study. To jot down some business jargon from one of America’s leading business news magazines. You know, the language used in workplaces to sound more like the team.Business Week advertises itself as “…an insightful weekly magazine that edifies complicated issues and conveys a sense of excitement while telling readers what they need to know, often before they need to know it.” Maybe you would like to know some of this ever-changing jargon in the business world. To read. To think. To study. To find out what’s new in business lingo.

  1. Above board (adj) Honest and open. Let’s be above board with my job description so we both know the responsibilities that are expected.
  2. Air it out (v) To discuss openly. We aired out the disagreement about work schedules and came up with an acceptable plan.
  3. Alignment (n) Agreement; consensus. Despite many opinions, when it came time to vote there was 100% alignment over the product design. Now it was time to go to work.
  4. Alpha pup (n) Trendsetting young people. It was important to consider the buying practices of the Alpha pup when discussing new markets. They spend 75% of the market so we need to really see what needs they have.
  5. Backburner (v) The act of not prioritizing. The accountant wanted to backburner the idea of going paperless with the monthly records so he avoided the discussion. But I was determined to have him face the fact that we were spending way too much money on what could be handled on-line.
  6. Banner year (n) The best year in a company. The department store had a banner year last year and they hoped to top it this year. So the good news is that we all got company bonuses. You’re right, I am hoping for another year like this one!
  7. Blow hot and cold air (v) To change one’s mind. It was hard to read what he wanted us to do as he constantly blew hot and cold air so we needed to move very cautiously and not share all we were doing with him when we suspected he was in a negative mood.
  8. Boot camp (n) A company training program. My son was hired at the insurance company, and he needs to go to boot camp for 2 weeks before he can sell insurance. Then if he passes the test, he should be all set.
  9. Bouncebackability (n) The ability to reverse a losing situation and succeed. You know, we almost sold that stock last year and I’m glad we didn’t, because it has great bouncebackability. You should see the profits now! I hope the trend continues.
  10. Breadcrumbing (v) Putting many jobs into one position where it is almost impossible to do. The company kept downsizing and breadcrumbing the positions to save money. You should see how my work responsibilities have changed. I can hardly breathe; there is so much work to do.
  11. Buy-in (expression) To agree with a particular position. What is your idea of getting buy-in from the senior managers? I personally think it is important as once we get their support, our jobs will be easier to do. We will get more funding for product promotion, etc.
  12. Color outside the lines (v) To ignore established rules. He kept coloring outside the lines, and before you know it, his job was eliminated. Now, there were little options for his future. It’s okay to disagree with management, but you still need to play along with the system.
  13. Carte blanche (expression) Freedom to make all decisions. The new marketing director had carte blanche and could hire whoever he wanted and spend any amount of money whenever he wished. I wish I could be so lucky.
  14. Deck (n) A power-point slide presentation. The deck was ready for the workshop and all I needed to do was to push the button and begin.
  15. Double-time (expression) To act quickly (military term). Get that report out double-time! the voice shouted and I knew that it would be hard for me to leave early tonight. I don’t always like working so hard.
  16. Dovetail (v) To expand upon someone’s ideas and claiming it as your own. He dovetailed the mission statement from a competitor’s company and offered it for the start-up company to use. And I do admit it was a very creative idea.
  17. Enthuse (v) To inspire enthusiasm. The staff training enthused the workers so they could be more productive.
  18. Extract the max (v) To achieve the highest level. That new manager extracts the max out of his staff.
  19. Feeding frenzy (n) Intense buying by the consumers. The recently released app caused a feeding frenzy.
  20. Gain traction (v) To increase market share. The online company gained traction when new products were introduced and the new buyers sought out the market share.
  21. Glass ceiling (n) The invisible barrier to career progression, often experienced by minorities and women. The glass ceiling was shattered when the company hired from overseas. I was glad to see this happening and more companies need to follow suit.
  22. Game-changing (adj) A critical point that alters direction. The new director was game-changing for the company and there were morning dialogue meetings held to discuss how we could turn around the company.
  23. Gravy (n) A boon or windfall. We broke-even in October, and now it is all gravy for the remainder of the year.
  24. Hammer out (v) To reach a consensus after a long debate. We hammered out the details of the new contract until both sides were completely satisfied. It was time well-spent, that’s for sure.
  25. Hunker-down (v) To prepare for difficult business challenged. The small business needed to hunker-down when a larger competitor moved to town or else it would be forced to close its doors.
  26. Jingle (n) A phone call. Give me a jingle when you get back from the meeting so we can talk about the new merger.  I always enjoy hearing your input.
  27. Killer app (n) A piece of software that excites the industry in new ways. That accounting software is really a killer app. I am sure the department will really see its advantages.
  28. Lightning rod (n) An individual is a common target. Mr. Jones was often treated as a lightning rod because he didn’t really care about his job. So part of the blame was justified, but it could have been handled in a different way.
  29. Make waves (v) To cause conflict or argument. Her aunt was a great employee and never made waves despite not always agreeing with the outcome. She kept those thoughts to herself and projected a positive image. Everyone loved her as an employee.
  30. Milk (v) To take advantage of a favorable situation. The sales department director milked the volume of sales from the sports complex, because his brother was the head of the complex. It did work out the best for both parties.
  31. Old boys’ club (n) A tight network of longstanding business relationships. It was an old boys’ club network. The outgoing President appointed his friend, etc. and then he appointed his friends to the board, and then they wanted to hire their friend, etc.
  32. One-two punch (n) Two actions taken immediately after each other. We moved fast in the takeover with a one-two punch. First the company hired some of their better employees, and then they bought out the stock. So in the end, it was very each to take over.
  33. Out of pocket (adj) Unreachable. The company chairman told everyone he would be out of pocket when he went on vacation. That meant no phone calls, no emails, and no mail.  He wanted and expected privacy.
  34. Ownership (n) An employee’s realization that he is responsible for the success of a given endeavor. It was great to see the IT department taking ownership of this year’s project. In their presentation, they beamed with pride and spoke so confidently about their project. It was great to see. No wonder the newspaper interviewed them.
  35. Party line (n) Official position of a company and organization. The party line for our organization was “Team Work”. So if you have great people skills, then that is viewed as a big plus.
  36. Pivot (n) A shift or change. The larger and newer store took a pivot when they stayed open longer hours. They needed to compete with the smaller, more well-known stores in the area.
  37. Pooh-pooh (v) To reject; to turn down. The new idea for expansion was pooh-poohed and we needed to start from scratch. I sure hope the next “great idea” is more acceptable.
  38. Pre-read (n) Information that needs to be read before a meeting. Please outline the pre-read before the meeting so we can move quickly. That means everyone!
  39. Pulse (v) To gather information informally. Pulse the colleagues to see if there are changes to their contact lists. Then adapt them and move on.
  40. Reach out (v) To contact. A staff member will reach out to you next week to see how everything is working out. Please expect his phone call and please be honest with your remarks. It will all be taken into consideration for product development. We aim for 100% customer satisfaction.
  41. Resource (n) Anything needed to complete a task (from materials to people). We need more resources to get the job done on time. Would there be any chance to access some of that grant money?
  42. Road map (n) A plan for dealing with upcoming business challenges. I wish we had a road map to figure out what to do. We certainly need to increase sales without increasing costs! At least if we had more direction, we might be able to handle things better.
  43. Rube Goldberg (adj) Describes an inefficient, overly complex solution. The board chose plan A as the other options were too Rube Goldberg.  They would take too much time and cost too much money. It was a pretty easy decision to make and for everyone to understand why that plan was selected.
  44. Shanghaied (v) jobs shipped overseas (to China). The department was closed in Canada, and it was Shanghaied to a central location in China.  I had to decide if I wanted to transfer overseas.
  45. Speaks to (adj) Represents; evokes. The mission statement speaks to what we are all about:  dependable, honest, and efficient.
  46. Sweetheart deal (n) An existing deal where existing clients receive more perks than new clients. It was a sweetheart deal and offered an additional 20% off of any company merchandise if you had been a customer for more than 5 years. Now that was a great idea to award existing customers.
  47. Throw under the bus (v) To avoid responsibility for a mistake by blaming someone else. My colleague threw me under the bus when the boss discovered some problems with the program. I was so surprised as I thought we worked well together as a team. How could he really confide in the boss and turn against me?
  48. Walk together (n) A close collaboration. We will walk together from start to finish and see our company succeed. I know we can do it.
  49. Wiggle room (n) The amount of flexibility to change a profit margin. There wasn’t much wiggle room to adjust the prices this week to match our competitors. But we did what we could.
  50. Zombie project (n) A project that keeps coming back to life no matter how many times that it is terminated. The customer service surveys seemed to be a Zombie project after we submitted the yearly summaries. Now, our boss wants us to call each customer who had a negative complaint to find out the details.  I thought what we did was enough. How much more information does he need? When will this stop? Didn’t we do the same thing last year?


It was getting late. I had read, thought, and studied and through it all was reminded of how business jargon continues to change in this fast-paced world of ours. It was refreshing. Recently, our company posted an article about business idioms used in The Wall Street Journal and a similar article about the New York Times and business jargon. I hope that you can find the time to read, think, and study the secret world of business jargon for yourself, and in doing so increase your English language skills.

And, as always, I’m here to walk together to make that happen (actually to extract the max in reaching your ESL goals).  So please give me a jingle using ht comments section below and I’ll be happy to help in any way. I would be glad to show you the in’s and out’s of online ESL learning.

Young confident asian businessman walking in the city.

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