Read 101 Business phrases with their meaning and examples, selected by Nikos
1) hold one’s horses – Wait a moment
Hold your horses, you still need to finish your studies before you start your business.
2) turn a dime – To change direction or focus almost immediately.
Thanks to covid-19, global economic policy has changed on a dime.
3) land on one’s feet – To have good luck on success in starting something new.
You’ve seemed to have landed on your feet in your new job.
4) knock it off – To ask someone to stop doing something.
Knock it off, he said to the children who were throwing the ball against the window.
5) lay it on the line – To speak truthfully to someone.
I am going to lay it on the line to you,’ you need to start looking for a new job.’
6) be made for sb/ sth – This is my natural talent.
He was made for sales.
7) make waves – Create trouble/ make an impression ( good/bad)
As soon as he joined the company, he began making waves in his department.
He made too many waves by complaining.
8) meet someone halfway – To compromise
I’ll meet you halfway on the last remaining issues that are holding back the deal.
9) miss the boat – To miss the chance/ opportunity.
My boss missed the boat regarding his chance to be promoted.
10) no dice – No luck, no chance/ no success
Facing the long odds, I was told by my father ‘ no dice.’
11) on the right track – One is doing something correctly.
‘Keep it up, you are on the right track.’
12) once in a blue moon – Almost never, rarely.
I give presentations once in a blue moon.
13) A lot on one’s plate – To have a large/excessive amount of work to do.
These days, I have a lot on my plate because of the shortage of full-time staff.
14) Stay on one’s toes – To pay close attention.To stay focused.
You need to stay on your toes as the competition is getting tougher.
15) out of bounds – Something that people are not allowed to do.
Using the company car for personal holidays is strictly ‘out of bounds.’
16) pass the buck – To pass the blame or responsibility to someone who is not to be blamed.
They passed the buck to Edward in accounting every though he was not responsible.
17) play it by ear – To do something without special preparing for it.
They decided to play it by ear and organise the annual conference at the last minute because of covid-19.
18) piece of cake – Something that is easy to do; to do something without a lot of effort.
Preparing for my interview was a piece of cake because I had already worked for the same company before.
19) pull strings – To secretly use influence ( power ) to promote your agenda (ambition).
He was always used to pulling the right strings in order to get his own way.
20) stand in for – To temporarily take the place of someone (officially or nonofficially).
John stood in for Markus the other day and did a great job.
21) on second thought – To change one’s opinion, especially after thinking about for a long time.
After she agreed to lend him the money, she had second thoughts. She was having second thoughts about getting married. He hardly gave it a second thought.
22) see eye to eye – To have the same opinion on most things.
Even though they worked on the same team, they never saw eye to eye.
23) shoot the breeze – To talk or gossip. To engage in small talk ( less serious topics)
Frank always liked to shoot the breeze at the local pub after work on Fridays.
24) shoot from the hip – To react without thinking, especially emotionally.
When the CEO was aggressively pushed for more information on the recent scandal, he emotionally shot from his hip and showed just how stressful the situation had become.
25) to receive their just desserts – To receive just punishments.
The scandal-ridden corporation received its just deserts when it filed for bankruptcy.
26) Grass is greener on the other side – Other people’s situations always seem better than your own.
Our employees have to stop thinking that the grass is greener at our major competitor.
27) I’m all ears – I am listening with a lot of attention ( focus)
The boss entered the meeting room and shouted” I am all ears.”
28) knock on wood – To do an act of not tempting our fate. Usually said after a positive statement.
He just received a bonus and got married-all was going well that’s when he said’ knock on wood.’
29) When in Rome do what the Romans do. – Adopt to the local culture when you are a visitor or immigrant.
When I moved to Moscow, I should have adapted more to the local culture. I forgot the saying, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.
30) to nudge – To push someone in a direction that they don’t want to follow normally with some incentives ( bonuses ).
Our boss nudged us into working every other Saturday by offering a flexible working and holiday schedule.
31) trigger happy – ready to react violently, especially by shooting, on the slightest provocation.
“The territory controlled by trigger-happy bandits”
32) Don’t shoot yourself in your own foot. – Don’t be foolish and say the wrong thing that will hurt yourself.
There he goes again, shooting himself in the foot, with his foolish remarks.
33) kick the can down the road – To put off confronting a difficult issue or making an important decision, typically on a continuing basis.
“I appreciate that he doesn’t want to raise taxes, but sooner or later you have to stop kicking the can down the road”
34) Don’t rain on my party. – To spoil someone’s pleasure,i.e. preparations, event, meeting.
I don’t want to rain on your parade, but I have just heard some bad news regarding your company.
35) Less is more. – That sometimes , simplicity is the best approach.
After realising that our approach was too complicated, we adopted the slogan (phrase)’ less is more.’
36) food for thought – A thought or observation that is made, normally at the end of a presentation that makes the listener think about the subject presented.
The latest research on covid left us with a lot of food for thought.
37) I have your back. – The willingness to defend someone, physically or verbally.
We told our friend that we have his back.
38) The emperor has no clothes. – This expression is used to describe a situation in which people are afraid to criticise something or someone because the perceived wisdom of the masses is that the thing or person is good or important.
Used to express when many people believe something that is not true. Used also to express something as untrue.
In the end, many people will say about his Presidency that the emperor has no clothes.
39) Kill two birds with one stone. – To take care of two problems with one action.
I will stop by the bank and on the way pass by the pharmacy as well, so I don’t have to make two trips.
40) Scope out – To examine in more detail, to take a closer look at.
We need to scope out our competitor’s territory and marketing methods.
41) Caught between a rock and a hard place. – Struggling to make a decision because the two choices presented are equally hard to accept.
They were caught between a rock and a hard place when they realised if they proceeded with their plans, they would incur tax liabilities and if they decided not to act, they would go bankrupt.
42) A trojan horse – When someone does something to make you think one thing when in fact they are going to do the exact opposite.
We need to present our main competitor with a ‘trojan horse’ so he thinks we are entering the European market, but in fact, we are preparing to enter the Asian market.
43) Danger iceberg; tip of the iceberg – Only the part of something that can be easily observed, but not the rest of it, which is hidden (Referring to the fact that the majority of an iceberg is below the surface of the water.)
The problems we are having are just the tip of the iceberg.
44) A canary in a coal mine. – The thankless task of being the first one to take a hit, from the practice of coal miners of bringing down a caged canary to see if there’s dangerous gas below.
I don’t want to be the company’s ‘canary in the coal mine’( guinea pig ), by being the first sales rep in Outer Mongolia- I think it would be a dangerous turn of events for my career path.
45) I am deep in the weeds. – Overwhelmed with problems, troubles, or difficulties.
Totally immersed in or preoccupied with the details or complexities (of something).
I feel completely deep in the weeds because of the amount of new tasks my boss has assigned me.
46) Egg on my face – To be suffering embarrassment as a result of some public failure or faux pas.
The CEO had egg on his face after he was caught lying in an interview.
47) On second thought – Having reconsidered or revised one’s opinion of something.
On second thought, I think we should reconsider the merger.
48) take for granted – To underestimate or undervalue someone or something; to not properly recognize or appreciate someone or something.
The boss takes us for granted, but if we weren’t here, this whole company would collapse.
49) At a glance – With only a quick look.
I have stickers hanging all over my cubicle so that I can answer customers’ questions at a glance.
50) Step on someone’s toes – To insult, offend, or upset one, especially by getting involved in some thing that is one’s responsibility.
I want to help John out on his project, but I know it’s his baby, so I don’t want to step on his toes in any way.
Look, you’re going to have to step on a few peoples’ toes if you want to get ahead in this business.
51) step up to the plate – To take responsibility for something that needs to be done. A reference to baseball, in which the batter stands next to home plate.
Someone will need to step up to the plate and lead this project now that Dylan has resigned.
52) give someone the runaround – Give one unclear, misleading, incomplete, or evasive information, especially in a response to a question or request.
When I call the telephone company for an explanation of all these extra charges, they always give me the runaround.
53) go for it – To put forth the necessary effort or energy to do or pursue something, especially in the face of any doubt or trepidation. Often used as words of encouragement.
Hi Frank, I think there is an opening in our Shanghai office.Why don’t you go for it!
54) wind down – Diminish gradually, draw to a close.
We should wind down this meeting and go home.
55) swing for the fences – To put forward one’s maximum amount of effort or energy (into or toward something); to act or perform with great intensity or effort.
I was impressed how on his first day at work he came out swinging.
56) twist someone’s arm – To pressure or force one into doing something.
They had to twist my arm to convince me to start homeworking, but when I finally did, I realized how much I loved it.
57) throw someone a curve (ball) – To do something unexpected or deceptive that surprises, confuses , thwarts, or outwits one. A curve ball is a pitch in baseball intended to be difficult to hit due to its curving path.
Her confidence suffered quite a bit as they threw a curve during her interview with some tricky questioning.
58) under the wire – At the last minute; just barely.
I submitted my job application at 11:59 PM on deadline day – just under the wire!
59) under fire – Subject to intense criticism or judgment.
The company came under fire after allegations surfaced that the CEO had misappropriated (stolen) funds.
60) Walk the talk – talk the talk – To back up one’s boastful talk with meaningful actions. (A compressed version of the largely American, “If you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk,” or, “You talk the talk, but can you walk the walk?” and other such iterations.) Primarily heard in UK.
This consultant has sold us on some pretty radical ideas, but it remains to be seen whether he can walk the talk.
61) water under the bridge – A prior issue that is now resolved or considered resolved.
That disagreement over pricing we had is just water under the bridge now – don’t even worry about it.
62) troubleshoot something – To investigate as a troubleshooter; determine and settle problems.
He was known as a troubleshooter in his company when it came to detailed accounting problems.
63) fall through the cracks – To go unnoticed or undealt with; to be unintentionally neglected or ignored, especially in a corporate, political, or social system.
We were all so busy drawing up the contracts for this new deal that the dinner we’d promised to our interns simply fell through the cracks.
64) a lot on my plate – A lot to do.
I have a lot on my plate right now while I’m renovating my house and doing this huge project for work.
65) Break a leg – A phrase of encouragement typically said to one who is about to perform before an audience.
The boss saw that he was nervous before his presentation, so he told him,’ don’t worry and go break a leg.’
66) come clean – To admit something to someone, often regarding a wrongdoing that one has tried to hide.
They came clean about their earnings (results) after the second quarter announcement.
67) sounds fishy – To seem suspicious of being improper, untoward, or duplicitous.
‘Their numbers just don’t add up,’ it sounds fishy to me.
68) woke up on the wrong side of the bed – To be in a particularly and persistently irritable, unhappy, or grouchy mood or state.
Our boss today was unusually snappy ( easily-made angry) and he later apologised to us, saying ‘ I guess I woke up on the wrong-side of the bed.’
69) on the fly – Quickly and informally, without thought or preparation.
I ran into my boss in town, so I had to think up an excuse on the fly as to why I wasn’t at work.
70) like a deer in the headlights – In a state or manner of paralyzing surprise, fear, or bewilderment. Likened to the tendency of deer to freeze in place in front of an oncoming vehicle.
When the CEO surprisingly promoted me, I felt like a deer in the headlights. I didn’t know what to say.
71) rough seas ahead – Many difficulties and challenges are coming in the near future.
According to the experts, there will be some rough seas ahead, economically speaking.
72) It’s not over until the fat lady sings – The final outcome cannot be assumed or determined until a given situation, event, etc., is completely finished.
His election to the board of directors is not a done deal, by no means. Until the fat lady sings, I am going to just wait for the official announcement.
73) Close but no cigar – A phrase said when one is almost correct or successful but ultimately fails. Cigars were once commonly used as prizes or awards.
He just missed his sales target and his boss yelled, ‘close but no cigar.’
74) batten down the hatches – To prepare for a challenging situation. While this originated as a nautical phrase, it is now used for any sort of imminent problem.
In order to face the post-covid economy, we will probably have to batten down the hatches.
75) smooth sailing – Progress or advancement that is free from hassle and easy to achieve.
Organising the dinner was really stressful, but it was pretty smooth sailing after that.
76) lights out – In sports, it means great performance.
His performance at work was ‘ lights out.’
77) Strike while the iron is hot – To make most of an opportunity or favorable conditions while one has the chance to do so.
This sounds like a pretty amazing deal they’re offering. If I were you, I’d strike while the iron is hot.
78) mark (write) it down as – To come to the conclusion that someone or something is a particular type of person or thing.
Mark their failure down as ‘due to inexperience’.
79) Jump the shark – By extension, to signal a decline in the progress or evolution of something (e.g., a company, a brand, a political endeavor, etc.).
They really jumped the shark by introducing a new diet pizza from Domino’s.
80) hot hand – The “hot hand” (also known as the “hot hand phenomenon” or “hot hand fallacy“) was considered a cognitive social bias that a person who experiences a successful outcome has a greater chance of success in further attempts.
Let’s go with Tom on the next deal as he seems to have a ‘hot hand ‘ in closing transactions.’
81) To be catfished – To deceive someone by presenting a false identity, typically through online correspondence.
The company was catfished when they discovered that the prospective client was really a teenager, posing as a business person.
82) wake up and smell the coffee – Pay attention to what is happening.
Come on, Fred, wake up and smell the coffee! They’re cheating you out of millions!
83) run circles around – To do something much better or more efficiently than someone or something.
When it comes to battery life, the MacBook Air runs circles around the old one.
84) put my foot in my mouth – To unintentionally say something foolish, tactless, or offensive.
I put my foot in my mouth when I speak for too long.
85) get around – To avoid or elude an authority or regulation that constitutes a barrier; to circumvent someone or something in order to get one’s way.
We devised away to get around the complicated tax issues.
86) This isn’t my cup of tea – Something one prefers, desires, enjoys, or cares about. Often used in the negative to mean the opposite.
I invited you because I thought that travelling was your cup of tea.
87) be a fly on the wall – One who is able to observe something closely but invisibly and without interfering in the situation.
I wish a had been a fly on the wall at that meeting.
88) rub someone’s nose in it – To remind one of one’s failures or wrongdoings.
Whenever our team makes a mistake, my obnoxious co-worker is always eager to rub our nose in it.
89) I call it like I see it. – To describe or address something as you honestly think it is.
When I see it done in a different way, ‘I call it like I see it.’
90) walk in the park – A task or activity that is easy or effortless to accomplish.
That new software training was really ‘a walk in the park.’
91) under my belt – In one’s scope of experience.
That new marketing strategy is already ‘under my belt.’
92) take someone under your wings – To act as someone’s guardian, protector, or mentor, especially someone who is vulnerable or in need of help, protection, or instruction.
My boss really took me under his wings and his protection is paying off.
93) under my skin – to irritate or upset someone His constant boasting was beginning to get under my skin. 2: to affect someone positively even though he or she does not want or expect to be affected that way: grow to like something I used to hate the city, but after a while it kind of got under my skin.
The new boss with his aggressive ‘selling techniques’ has gotten under my skin.
94) under the radar screen – In a position in which someone or something will remain unnoticed or undetected.
With so many different variations to the schedule, I am sure that some details have slipped under the radar screen.
95) Throw down the gauntlet – To issue a challenge or invitation, as to a fight, argument, or competition.
The competition threw down the gauntlet to us , so we responded with our best performance.
96) throw out the baby with the bath water – To discard something valuable or important while disposing of something considered worthless, especially an outdated idea or form of behavior.
Why are we scrapping (getting rid off) the entire project? Come on,don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater.
97) turn over a new leaf – To change one’s behavior, usually in a positive way.
John has really turned over a new leaf – he hasn’t caused the slightest bit of trouble in months.
98) turn the tables on them – To change or reverse something dramatically against an opponent or adversary.
Wow, we really turned the tables on our main competitors after we surprised them with the launch of our new line of products.
99) by leaps and bounds – By very large degrees; rapidly or in quick progress forward.
Our small company has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past year, thanks in no small part to our aggressive new online digital marketing campaign.
100) mend your ways – To start behaving in a different, usually preferable, way.
You need to mend your ways as your lack of punctuality will come back to bite you.
101) Ahead of the curve – At the forefront of or leading in something, such as a developing situation, field of study or business, social development, etc.
They stayed ‘ ahead of the curve’ by constantly innovating.