We would like to think that all businesses conduct themselves in a moral and legally responsible way but, alas, we do not live in a perfect world. It is with the companies and individuals in mind that we dedicate this installment to idioms about dishonesty.
ill-gotten gains – money acquired in a dishonest or illegal manner.
- His ill-gotten gains were seized by the government when he was arrested for fraud.
Note: To seize is to another way to say “to take quick and forcible possession of.” It is synonymous with confiscate.
to line your own pocket – to take advantage of a situation purely for your personal financial benefit.
- He had been lining his pockets for years with company funds.
Note: Pocket is also used in another idiom related to bad business: to be in someone’s pocket. This means that someone is controlled by someone else because of bribes that they pay you (e.g., the gangster had the corrupt official in his pocket).
to cook the books – to falsify financial records.
- They concealed millions of dollars in losses by cooking the books.
Note: The books here refer to accounting ledgers and so a related idiom is “to keep two sets of books”.
under the table – something done secretly (and usually illegally) in the business world.
- To avoid paying taxes, they paid some of their employees under the table.
Note: If this idiom is used to qualify a noun or a noun phrase, hyphens must be used, as in “under-the-table payments.”
money laundering – to conceal the source of illegally-obtained money so that it is believed to be legitimate.
- They had been using other smaller companies to launder money until they were caught.
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Hoping for improvement is natural. After all, we all want to get better and the same is true in business. For this reason we are going to use this installment of Business Idioms to discuss some idioms about progress.
to gain ground – to go forward or to make progress.
- We have been number two in our industry for years but we are gaining ground on the market leaders.
Note: get off the ground is a related idiom that is used to describe making a successful beginning (e.g., Without the proper marketing our new range never had a chance to get off the ground).
a step in the right direction – an positive action that is expected to result in some advancement or improvement.
- Although it’s still not perfect, with the changes made to our product I feel that the relaunch is definitely a step in the right direction.
Note: another similar walking based idiom is making strides which refers to making large improvement or progress (e.g., we have been making strides in the efficiency of our systems).
to go great guns – to go fast or successfully.
- We were going great guns with the new design until we realised there was a fault with the safety of the toy and had to take it back to the drawing board.
to work your way up – to make progress in a process or structure.
- He worked his way up from the mail room and is now a sales manager.
Note: to the top can be added to this idiom – as in work your way to the top – meaning that you reach the pinnacle of the process or structure (e.g., He started in the mail room and worked his way to the top to become CEO).
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In the cutthroat world of business sometimes even the best ideas fall flat. So hope for the best but plan for the worst in this installment of our series which covers business idioms about failure.
to close up shop – to close a business.
- Business had been slow for a while so they were forced to close up shop and try something else.
Note: In the UK, close in this example can be exchanged with shut without the meaning changing (e.g., shut up shop).
to go belly up – to go out of business because of financial problems.
- The local bakery went belly up last year.
Note: Use this one carefully as this rather morbid idiom refers to the position of an animal when it is dead (and carries the negative connotations to match).
to cut one’s losses – to end or withdraw from something that is already failing in order to reduce the loss of money, time or effort invested in it.
- The project is heading for failure. Let’s cut our losses before it’s too late.
Note: Another idiom, to get out while you are ahead, has a similar meaning.
to go up in smoke – if a plan or project ends in failure before producing a result.
- After the closure of his business his dreams of being self-employed went up in smoke.
Note: a similar idiom is go up in flames can be used when something is extremely damaged or destroyed (e.g., his career went up in flames when he was jailed for theft).
to wither on the vine – to fail or cease to exist because of lack of support or encouragement.
- Due to the lack of foot traffic the store is destined to wither on the vine.
Note: this refers to a plant dying (or withering) due to lack of nourishment.
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Cash is king in business and the measure of success for any enterprise so we have dedicated this installment of our Business Idioms series to idioms about making money.
in the black – descriptive of being profitable, successful, or otherwise making money.
- The company is very successful; they are consistently in the black.
Note: the opposite of this expression is in the red which refers to a business operating at a loss; this is because in accounting negative numbers are generally recorded in red ink.
To make money hand over fist – to make a lot of money very quickly.
- We have been making money hand over fist since our biggest competitor went out of business.
Note: this expression was first written in Seba Smith’s The Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing in 1833 “they….. clawed the money off his table hand over fist”
to turn a profit – to make a profit.
- It usually takes at least a year for a new business to turn a profit.
Note: “Turn” is also used in turnover, a noun used to refer to all of the money that passes through a business.
to clean up – to make a lot of money, make a big profit.
- There were so many customers at the market this weekend that we really cleaned up.
Note: This is not to be confused with the idiom to come clean which is to confess something.
to make a killing – to make a lot of money.
- When we release our new product we are going to make a killing.
Note: Killing in a nonviolent sense also appears in the idiom to “kill time” which means to use up extra time.
For other installments of this series as well as many more useful materials please visit our homepage on business jargon and idioms.
In business as in life almost everything is negotiable. So it is no wonder that people are constantly striving to find the middle ground. With this in mind, in this installment of the Business Idioms series we will be discussing some Idioms about negotiation.
to cut a deal – to make a beneficial business arrangement with someone.
- I thought we weren’t going to be able to afford the new version, but I was able to cut a deal and get it at half price.
Note: cut can also be used to describe a reduced price (e.g., cut price).
to make an offer – to deliver a financial proposal for a product or service.
- We are going to make an offer they can’t refuse.
a bargaining chip – something used to make someone do what you want.
- Our faster delivery times can be used as a bargaining chip.
Note: bargaining refers to negotiation and can be used in other idioms (e.g., a bargaining tool referring to something used to strengthen your negotiating position).
a hard sell – an aggressive sales technique.
- They really wanted us to sign the contract so they were using the hard sell.
Note: this can also be used for when someone is difficult to convince someone something (e.g., He bought the ticket from me in the end but it was a hard sell).
to knock down the price of (something) or knock the price of (something) down – to lower the price of something.
- I managed to convince them to knock down the price of my new car.
Note: Knock, as used above, means to hit (as in on a door) but it can be used if a very different way, to describe an imitation or fake product (e.g., her designer purse looks real but it is a knock-off).
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Communication is the cornerstone of any fruitful relationship and business is no exception. So in this installment of our business idioms series we will be discussing a variety of idioms about understanding.
to see eye to eye – to have the same perspective, opinion, or otherwise agree with someone
- I’m glad we see eye to eye on the new customer service policy
to get someone’s drift – to understand in a general way what someone is trying to say
- I had to leave early so missed the question and answer section but I got the drift from the power point presentation
Note: we “get” a lot of things in idioms! Here are a few other examples which refer to understanding alone: get the message (e.g., When my boss pointed at his watch I got the message – it was time to finish the meeting) and get the picture (e.g., I didn’t realize how bad the financial state of the company was but after reviewing the figures I get the picture.).
penny drops – when a person has difficulty understanding something and then they finally understand
- He thought his job was incredibly secure but the penny dropped when he received a written warning.
Note: this idiom alludes to coin operated machines which will not function until the penny (a coin) literally drops or goes in. This makes it similar to the idea of the lightbulb of insight.
to be on the same page – to have the same amount of knowledge or understanding
- After a few weeks of negotiation we’re on the same page.
Note: Another idiom with a similar meaning is to be on the same wavelength (which is to say that two people are receiving the same signal).
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What goes up what must come down and, accordingly, there are more than a few idioms related to exactly that – the bottom half of things:
The Bottom Falls Out Of (Something) – a sudden and dramatic fall in price or value
- Even the most experienced investors were worried when the bottom fell out of the housing market; prices fell so fast that no one knew what to do.
Note: A variant of this idiom uses “drop” instead of “fall” but in either case this, the principal verb, must be modified to maintain grammatical structure.
Bottom Line – the final figure on a balance sheet or other financial document (typically this is the total)
- “Don’t worry about going over the specifics, just give me the bottom line: are we are going to make a profit this quarter or not?”
Continue reading “Keep Your Eye On The Bottom Line With Business Idioms”
As we noted in our recent entry in the business idioms blog series, banks have just as big a role in the world of business idioms as they do in the business world itself. Here are some of the most famous; with these at your disposal success is almost assured!
To Break The Bank – to spend more money than you have
- The small company almost broke the bank after it tried to meet the production demands of a major client placed that placed a huge order on credit.
Note: As the above example shows, this idiom can be used with both actual banks and regular business (in which case “bank” could be considered a stand-in for bank account).
To Take It To The Bank – to have something genuine that you can trust without question
- Trust me, my stock tip is so good that you can take it the bank.
Continue reading “These Business Idioms Are Money In the Bank!”
With phrases like “too big to fail” being thrown around left and right these days it can be easy to think of businesses – especially big business – as creatures with lives of their own. Even the largest company, however, is still reliant on its employees to help realize its vision and further its goals. It is with that in mind, then, that in this installment of our Business Idioms series is dedicated to the people who make big businesses hum.
Bean Counter – an accountant
- We need the bean counters to look over the figures in the forecast before we present it to upper management.
Note: The beans in this idiom represent, as you probably could have guessed, money. Continue reading “Business Idioms: The People That Make It Happen”