40 Business Idioms Commonly Used in the American Workplace

For better or worse, the American workplace is full of idioms...


People don’t begin the project. They get the project off the ground. They don’t call each other to discuss progress, they touch base. Later, if the project is not going well, they don’t end it. They pull the plug.

Below is a list of some of the most common idioms used at work.

1. Pull one's weight

  • To do one's share of the work
  • Example: Don't rely on others to get your job done. You need to pull your own weight.

2. Pull the plug

  • To put a stop to a project or initiative, usually because it's not going well; to stop something from moving foward; to discontinue
  • Example: After losing millions of dollars drilling for oil in Nebraska and finding nothing, the oil company finally pulled the plug on its exploration project.

3. Put a stake in the ground

  • To take the first step; to make a big move to get something started; to make a commitment
  • Example: Our business in California has brown steadily over the past two years. Now is the time to put a stake in the ground and open a regional office there.

4. Rally the troops

  • To motivate others; to get other people excited about doing something
  • Example: After the lay-offs and salary cuts, the airline president organized a meeting to rally the troops and plan for the next year.

5. Reality check

  • Let's think realistically about this situation
  • Example: You think we can start selling our products through our website next month? Time for a reality check! Nobody at our company knows anything about e-commerce.

6. Scale back one's hours

  • To reduce the number of hours one works
  • Example: When Christine had a baby, she decided to scale back her hours and just work part - time.

7. Shape up or ship out!

  • Improve your behavior or leave; if you don't improve your performance, you're going to get fired.
  • Example: Martin finally had enough of Todd's negative attitude. "Shape up or ship out"he told Todd.

8. Step up to the plate

  • To take action; to do one's best; to volunteer
  • Example: We need somebody to be in charge of organizing the company holiday party. Who'd like to step up to the plate and start working on this project?

9. Belt-tightening

  • Reduction of expense
  • Example: When worldwide demand for software decreased, Microsoft had to do some belt-tightening.

10. Bite the bullet

  • To make a difficult or painful decision; to take difficult step
  • Example: When demand was down, U.S. automakers had to bike the bullet and cut jobs.

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11. Jump the gun

  • Start doing something too soon or ahead of everybody else
  • Example: The company jumped the gun by releasing a new product before the results of the consumer testing were in.

12. Jump through hoops

  • To go through a lot of difficult work for something; to face many bureaucratic obstacles
  • Example: We had to jump through hoops to get our visa to Russia, but we finally got them.

13. Keep one's eye on the prize

  • To stay focused on the end result; to not let small problems get in the way of good results
  • Example: I know it's difficult going to class after work, but just keep your eye on the prize. At the end of next year, you'll have your MBA

14. Keep something under wraps

  • To keep something secret; to not let anybody know about a new project or plan
  • Example: I'm sorry I can't tell you anything about the project I'm working on. My boss told me to keep it under wraps.

15. Mum's the word

  • Let's keep quiet about this; I agree not to tell anyone about this
  • Example: Please don't tell anybody about our new project. Remember: mum's the word!

16. My gut tells me

  • I have a strong feeling that; my intuition tells me
  • Example: It's true that I don't know him well, but my gut tells me that James is the right person for the sales director position

17. Nothing ventured, nothing gained

  • If you don't try to do something, you'll never succeed.
  • Example: It's risky to spend so much money developing a new brand, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

18. On top of trends

  • Modern; aware and responding to the latest tastes
  • Example: The Gap is on top of trends. They always have the latest styles in their stores.

19. Pass the buck

  • Shift the blame; to blame somebody else
  • Example: It's your fault. Don't try to pass the buck!

20. Plug (a product)

  • Promote a product; to talk positively about a product
  • Example: American Express often hires famous people to plug their credit cards. No wonder people pay attention to their ads!
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40 Business Idioms Commonly Used in the American Workplace

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