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List of Business Idioms in English

Animal IdiomsBusiness IdiomsColour IdiomsFood IdiomsMoney Idioms 

Choose an idiom and click on it to go directly to the explanation and example.
A
Across the board, at a loss

B
bail a company out, ball park figure/estimate, bang for the buck, banker’s hours, bean-counter, big gun/cheese/wheel/wig, bottom fall out/drop out, bottom line, bottom out, boys/men in the backroom, break even, budget squeeze/crunch, buy off, buy out, by a long shot

C
calculated risk, captain of industry, carry over, carry the day, carry through, close out, close the books, cold call, come on strong, company man, company town, cut back, cut corners, cut off, cut one’s losses

D
deliver the goods, double-check

F
face value, fair play, figure out, fill the bill, finger in the pie

G
gain ground, get a break, get off the ground, give someone the green light, go public, go through with

H
hard sell, heads will roll

I
in black and white, in charge of, in short supply, in stock, in the black, in the long run, in the market for, in the red, in the works

J
jack up

K
keep books, keep track of, kickback

M
make a go of, mean business, number-cruncher

O
on hand, (buy) on credit, on the block

P
pay off, piece/slice of the action

R
red ink, run short

S
saddled with debt, sell like hotcakes, sell out, strike while the iron is hot, sweetheart deal

T
take a nosedive, take on, take over, take public, take stock, throw cold water on, throw money at something, tight spot, turn over

W
work out, write off
 

across the board

MEANING: including everyone or everything

EXAMPLE:

The computer company decided to give the workers an across-the-board increase in their salary.

at a loss

MEANING: sell something and lose money

EXAMPLE:

We were forced to sell the computers at a big loss.

bail a company out

MEANING: help or rescue a company with financial problems.

EXAMPLE:

The government decided to bail out the failing bank in order to maintain stability in the economy.

ball park figure/estimate

MEANING: a rough estimate or figure

EXAMPLE:

The contractor gave us a ball park figure for the cost of repairing the new building.

bang for the buck

MEANING: value for the money spent

EXAMPLE:

We were able to get a big bang for our buck when we advertised on the Internet.

banker’s hours

MEANING: short work hours

EXAMPLE:

My sister’s husband owns his own company and is able to work banker’s hours with his large staff.

Bean-counter

MEANING: an accountant

EXAMPLE:

We asked the bean-counters to look over the figures in the new budget.

big gun/cheese/wheel/wig

MEANING: an important person, a leader

EXAMPLE:

The new director was a big wheel in his previous company but is not so important now.

bottom fall out/drop out

MEANING: to fall below an earlier lowest price

EXAMPLE:

When the bottom fell out of the coffee market many companies had to stop doing business.

bottom line

MEANING: the total, the final figure on a balance sheet

EXAMPLE:

When they examined the bottom line of the company they decided not to invest in it.

bottom out

MEANING: reach the lowest or worst point of something

EXAMPLE:

The value of the stock has begun to bottom out and should soon begin to increase in value.

boys/men in the backroom

MEANING: a group of men making decisions behind the scenes

EXAMPLE:

The boys in the backroom told us that we must close down the factory as soon as possible.

break even

MEANING: have expenses equal to profits

EXAMPLE:

After only three months the company was able to break even and start making profits.

budget squeeze/crunch

MEANING: a situation where there is not enough money in the budget

EXAMPLE:

We have been going through a severe budget squeeze at our company and must begin to stop spending money in a wasteful manner.

buy off

MEANING: use a gift or money to divert someone from their duty or purpose

EXAMPLE:

The land developer tried to buy off the politician but he was not successful.

buy out

MEANING: buy the ownership or a decisive share of something

EXAMPLE:

The company was bought out by another large company in the textile industry.

by a long shot

MEANING: by a big difference, by far

EXAMPLE:

The soap company was able to beat out the bids of the other companies by a long shot.

calculated risk

MEANING: an action that may fail but has a good chance to succeed

EXAMPLE:

They took a calculated risk when they introduced the new computer screen onto the market.

captain of industry

MEANING: a top corporation officer

EXAMPLE:

The president of our company was a captain of industry and after he retired he was appointed to many government boards.

carry over

MEANING: save for another time

EXAMPLE:

We were forced to carry over the sale to the Monday after the national holiday.

carry over

MEANING: transfer (a figure) from one column or book to another

EXAMPLE:

Our company is still facing difficult times and we will have to carry over last year’s losses to this year.

carry the day

MEANING: win completely

EXAMPLE:

The president’s new idea carried the day and everyone supported him energetically.

carry through

MEANING: put into action

EXAMPLE:

The steel company carried through their plan to restructure all of their operations.

close out

MEANING: sell the whole of something, sell all the goods

EXAMPLE:

They decided to close out the store and sell all of the remaining stock very cheap.

close the books

MEANING: stop taking orders, end a bookkeeping period

EXAMPLE:

They usually close the books at the end of February every year.

cold call

MEANING: call a potential customer from a list of persons one has never seen

EXAMPLE:

When he first started to work at his company he was asked to make cold calls using the telephone book.

come on strong

MEANING: overwhelm with excessively strong language or personality

EXAMPLE:

The salesman came on too strong at the meeting and angered the other members of the team.

company man

MEANING: a person who always works hard and agrees with his employees

EXAMPLE:

My father was a true company man and was always putting in an extra effort for his company.

company town

MEANING: a town dominated by one industry or company

EXAMPLE:

When the coal mine closed down the company town faced severe economic times.

cut back

MEANING: use fewer or use less

EXAMPLE:

The company has been cutting back on entertainment expenses for over a year now.

cut corners

MEANING: economize

EXAMPLE:

We have been forced to economize on stationary expenses during these severe economic times.

cut off

MEANING: interrupt or stop

EXAMPLE:

The speech of the president was cut off when the electricity went off in the building.

cut one’s losses

MEANING: do something to stop losing money or something

EXAMPLE:

We should sell the old machinery as soon as possible and try and cut our losses.

deliver the goods

MEANING: succeed in doing well what is expected

EXAMPLE:

The new owner of the company is not very popular but he is able to deliver the goods.

double-check

MEANING: check something again to confirm

EXAMPLE:

We were unable to double-check the costs of the new products before the price list was printed.

face value

MEANING: the official worth or trust of something

EXAMPLE:

Although the face value of the postage stamp was very low it sold at the auction for much money.

fair play

MEANING: justice, equal and right action to someone

EXAMPLE:

The company is very good to work for as they always use fair play when they are bargaining with their employees.

figure out

MEANING: find an answer by thinking about something

EXAMPLE:

Everyone in our company is trying to figure out what our boss is going to do with the new equipment.

fill the bill

MEANING: be just what is needed

EXAMPLE:

That new machine should fill the bill as to what we need to finish the job.

finger in the pie

MEANING: involved in what is happening, receiving money for something

EXAMPLE:

The new manager has his finger in the pie in all aspects of our company’s business.

gain ground

MEANING: go forward, make progress

EXAMPLE:

Our company has been gaining ground in our attempt to be the best in the industry.

get a break

MEANING: get an opportunity or good deal

EXAMPLE:

We were able to get a break on the price of the paint and saved a lot of money.

get off the ground

MEANING: make a successful beginning, go ahead

EXAMPLE:

We were unable to get the new product off the ground and will have to wait until next year.

give someone the green light

MEANING: give permission to go ahead with a project

EXAMPLE:

Our boss gave us the green light to begin work on the new sales promotion.

go public

MEANING: sell shares of a privately owned company to the public

EXAMPLE:

The stock of the Internet company rose very quickly when they went public.

go through with

MEANING: finish, do as planned or agreed

EXAMPLE:

We have decided not to go through with our plans to launch the new product until we have solved all of its problems.

hard sell

MEANING: sell something by being very aggressive

EXAMPLE:

The car salesman gave us a hard sell so we decided to go to another dealer.

heads will roll

MEANING: someone will be punished

EXAMPLE:

Heads will roll when our boss learns about the money that we have lost recently.

in black and white

MEANING: in writing

EXAMPLE:

The company refused to deal with the customer’s complaints until they saw them in black and white.

in charge of

MEANING: in control of, responsible for

EXAMPLE:

My sister has been in charge of buying supplies at her company for many years.

in short supply

MEANING: not enough, in less than the amount or number needed

EXAMPLE:

Experienced computer programmers are in short supply at our company.

in stock

MEANING: have something ready to sell or use

EXAMPLE:

They didn’t have any computer printer ribbons in stock at the store.

in the black

MEANING: successful or making money

EXAMPLE:

The new company has been in the black for over a year now.

in the long run

MEANING: in the final result

EXAMPLE:

The company has been losing money recently but in the long run they should do very well.

in the market for

MEANING: ready to buy something

EXAMPLE:

We have been in the market for a new computer for a long time but still we haven’t bought one.

in the red

MEANING: losing money, unprofitable

EXAMPLE:

The company began to go into the red when the price of oil began to rise rapidly.

in the works

MEANING: in preparation, being planned or worked on

EXAMPLE:

The camera company has a new automatic camera in the works but nobody knows about it yet.

jack up

MEANING: make a price higher

EXAMPLE:

The steel companies decided to jack up the price of steel at the beginning of the year.

keep books

MEANING: keep records of money gained and spent

EXAMPLE:

The new assistant to the sales manager has no experience keeping books and has made many mistakes.

keep track of

MEANING: keep a count or record, stay informed

EXAMPLE:

They have been making a great effort to keep track of the number of visitors to their store.

kickback

MEANING: money paid illegally for favourable treatment

EXAMPLE:

The construction company was taken to court for giving kickbacks to the local politicians.

make a go of

MEANING: produce good results, succeed

EXAMPLE:

Although he works very hard in his small business he has been unable to make a go of it and may soon go out of business.

mean business

MEANING: be serious

EXAMPLE:

Our boss means business when he tells everyone to try and work harder.

number-cruncher

MEANING: an accountant, someone who works with numbers

EXAMPLE:

Our president is a good number-cruncher and understands about the finances of our company.

on hand

MEANING: in one’s possession, ready

EXAMPLE:

We didn’t have any supplies on hand and were unable to finish the job.

(buy) on credit

MEANING: buy something without paying cash

EXAMPLE:

My friend had no money so he decided to buy the furniture on credit.

on the block

MEANING: for sale

EXAMPLE:

As soon as they purchased the company they began to put some of the equipment on the block.

pay off

MEANING: make a profit, be successful

EXAMPLE:

The furniture manufacturer was unable to pay off their loan and had to go out of business.

piece/slice of the action

MEANING: a share in the activity or the profits of something

EXAMPLE:

The inventor wanted a large piece of the action of the profits from the new computer that he had invented.

red ink

MEANING: debt (red ink on a financial statement)

EXAMPLE:

The automobile company has been drowning in red ink since the US dollar began to rise.

run short

MEANING: not have enough in quantity

EXAMPLE:

They ran short of gasoline at the gas station and had to close early.

saddled with debt

MEANING: burdened with debt

EXAMPLE:

Our sister company is saddled with a great amount of debt and should be sold as soon as possible.

sell like hotcakes

MEANING: sell very quickly

EXAMPLE:

The children’s toys were selling like hotcakes at the end of the year.

sell out

MEANING: sell all of a product

EXAMPLE:

Every year at least one company sells out all of their products which frustrates many customers.

strike while the iron is hot

MEANING: take advantage of an opportunity

EXAMPLE:

We decided to strike while the iron was hot and began to market the product around the time of the Olympics.

sweetheart deal

MEANING: a deal made between friends so that both may make a big profit

EXAMPLE:

We were able to make a sweetheart deal with our landlord and got the rent greatly reduced.

take a nosedive

MEANING: collapse, fail, decrease in value

EXAMPLE:

The stock market took a nosedive when the earnings of the oil company began to weaken.

take on

MEANING: to give a job to or hire someone

EXAMPLE:

The company took on many new workers during the busy holiday season.

take over

MEANING: take control or possession of something, take charge or responsibility

EXAMPLE:

The government decided to take over the bank after it declared bankruptcy.

take public

MEANING: sell shares in a company to the general public

EXAMPLE:

We decided it was necessary to take our company public in order to raise money to expand our facilities.

take stock

MEANING: count the items of merchandise or supplies in stock, take inventory

EXAMPLE:

The department store closes down for 3 days every March in order to take stock.

throw cold water on

MEANING: discourage, forbid

EXAMPLE:

The managers threw cold water on the plans to close down the factory for one week in August.

throw money at something

MEANING: try to solve a problem by spending money on it

EXAMPLE:

The president of our company is willing to throw a lot of money at the problem in the hope of solving it.

tight spot

MEANING: a difficult situation

EXAMPLE:

The computer manufacturing company has been in a tight spot since the shortage of computer chips appeared.

turn over

MEANING: to buy and then sell something to customers

EXAMPLE:

The turn-over at that discount store is very rapid.

work out

MEANING: plan, develop

EXAMPLE:

I spent the weekend trying to work out the budget estimates for next year.

write off

MEANING: remove from a business record, cancel a debt

EXAMPLE:

It was impossible for the bank to collect the money so they were forced to write off the loan.