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Business English
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Business Vocabulary
Business English Vocabulary
Jargon & BuzzWords 1
Jargon & BuzzWords 2
Business Idioms
Online Business
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Business English Idioms

English idioms are the often silly phrases that all English native speakers use - that frequently have no meaning at all to non-native listeners.  But, idioms tend to be interesting, so many students of English enjoy studying them and they WILL help students understand what is being said.

You can download this list as a Word document with 28 A4 pages here: Business Idioms

Here we will give credit to Learn4Good.com for their help in compiling this list.

Here we go . . .

 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.

ante up

MEANING: pay, produce a necessary amount of money

EXAMPLE:   had to ante up a lot of money to get my car fixed.

at all costs

MEANING: at any expense of time, effort or money

EXAMPLE:  he plans to go to school at all costs.

at a loss

MEANING: sell something and lose money

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

back on your feet

MEANING: return to good financial health

EXAMPLE: My sister is back on her feet after losing her job last year.

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.


MEANING: an accountant

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

 bet your bottom dollar

MEANING: bet all one has on something

EXAMPLE: I would bet my bottom dollar that the accounting manager will be late again today.

bet on the wrong horse

MEANING: base your plans on a wrong guess about the results of something

EXAMPLE: He is betting on the wrong horse if he continues to support the other candidate for mayor.

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.

born with a silver spoon in your mouth

MEANING: born to wealth and comfort, born rich

EXAMPLE: The student in our history class was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has never worked in his life.

bottom dollar

MEANING: your last dollar

EXAMPLE: He spent his bottom dollar on some new clothes to wear for his job interview.

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 1

MEANING: line in a financial statement that shows net income or loss

EXAMPLE: The bottom line in the company's financial statement was much worse than expected.

bottom line 2

MEANING: final result, main point

EXAMPLE: The bottom line was that we were unable to attend the conference because of our busy schedule.

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 income equal to expenses

EXAMPLE: Our company was able to break even after only six months of operation.

break the bank

MEANING: win all the money at a casino gambling table

EXAMPLE:He broke the bank at the casino and walked away with a lot of money.

bring home the bacon

MEANING: earn the family living

EXAMPLE: I have been working hard all month bringing home the bacon for my family.

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.

 burn a hole in your pocket

MEANING: money that one wishes or intends to spend quickly (often for something frivolous)

EXAMPLE: The money had been burning a hole in his pocket when he decided to go to the casino.

buy off

MEANING: give money to someone to stop them from doing their duty

EXAMPLE: They tried to buy off the politician but he refused to go along with their plan.

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.


MEANING: selling something for cash only with no delivery

EXAMPLE: We were able to get a good price on a sofa in a cash-and-carry deal at the furniture store.

cash in

MEANING: exchange coupons or bonds for their value in money

EXAMPLE: I cashed in a large number of my savings bonds in order to get some money to buy a house.

cash in on

MEANING: make money from an opportunity

EXAMPLE: The former football player cashed in on his popularity to open a very successful restaurant.

cash in your chips

MEANING: exchange or sell something to get some money

EXAMPLE: I decided to cash in my chips to get some money to go back to school.

cash on the barrelhead

MEANING: money paid in cash when something is bought

EXAMPLE: I had to pay cash on the barrelhead for the used car.

caught short

MEANING: not have enough money when you need it

EXAMPLE: I was caught short and had to borrow some money from my father last week.


MEANING: a person who will not spend much money, a stingy person

EXAMPLE: My friend is a cheapskate and won't even go to a movie with me.

chicken feed

MEANING: a small amount of money

EXAMPLE: His son always wants to borrow money and says that it is only chicken feed but little by little it adds up to a lot of money.

chip in

MEANING: contribute money or pay jointly

EXAMPLE: Everyone in our company chipped in some money to buy a wedding present for our boss.

clean up

MEANING: make a lot of money, make a big profit

EXAMPLE: I cleaned up at the horse races last year and still have some of the money left.

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.

cold hard cash

MEANING: cash, coins and bills

EXAMPLE: I paid for the stereo in cold hard cash.

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.

cook the books

MEANING: illegally change information in accounting books in a company

EXAMPLE:  The accountant was cooking the books for over a year before he was caught.

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.


MEANING: sell for a price lower than usual

EXAMPLE: We went to a cut-rate furniture store to buy some new furniture for our apartment.


MEANING: person who never pays the money he owes

EXAMPLE: Recently the government has been making an effort to solve the problem of deadbeat dads who don't support their families.
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.

dime a dozen

MEANING: easy to get and therefore of little value

EXAMPLE: Used computers are a dime a dozen and have very little value.


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.

down and out

MEANING: have no money

EXAMPLE: My friend was down and out for several years before he got a job and started making money.

Dutch treat

MEANING: something where each person pays their own share

EXAMPLE: We went to the movie as a Dutch treat so it didn't cost me much money.

face value

MEANING: the worth or price printed on a stamp, bond, note or paper money etc.

EXAMPLE: The face value of the stamp was very low but in reality it was worth a lot of money.

fast buck

MEANING: money earned quickly and easily (and sometimes dishonestly)

EXAMPLE: The company tried to make a fast buck on the property but they actually lost a lot of 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.

feel like a million dollars/bucks

MEANING: feel wonderful

EXAMPLE: Although I have been sick for a few weeks I feel like a million dollars today.

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.

flat broke

MEANING: having no money, penniless

EXAMPLE: I am flat broke and don't even have enough money to pay my rent.

foot the bill


EXAMPLE: My sister is footing the bill for her daughter's education so she is making sure that she studies hard.

for a song

MEANING: at a low price, cheaply

EXAMPLE: We bought the car for a song and will try and sell it for a higher price.

fork over

MEANING: pay, pay out

EXAMPLE: I forked over a lot of money for the painting that is hanging on my wall.

for love or money (usually negative)

MEANING: for anything, for any price

EXAMPLE: I would not want to have to do that man's job for love or money.

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 broke

MEANING: lose all your money, have no money

EXAMPLE: My uncle started a company last year but it quickly went broke.

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.

gravy train

MEANING: getting paid more money than the job is worth

EXAMPLE: The job was a gravy train and I made a lot of money when I was there.

grease your palm

MEANING: give a tip, pay for a special favor or extra help, bribe

EXAMPLE: The waiter was greasing his palm at the restaurant until he was finally fired.


MEANING: a gift of money (usually from the government)

EXAMPLE: After receiving hand-outs from the government for many years they finally had to make money on their own.

hand to mouth

MEANING: having only enough money for basic living

EXAMPLE: My friend has been living from hand to mouth since he lost his job.

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.

hard up

MEANING: not have much money

EXAMPLE: His brother is hard up for money and always wants to borrow some.

have sticky fingers

MEANING: be a thief

EXAMPLE: The new employee has sticky fingers and many things in the store have disappeared.

heads will roll

MEANING: someone will be punished

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

highway robbery

MEANING: charge a high price for something

EXAMPLE: The amount of money that the company is charging for its services is highway robbery.

hit the jackpot

MEANING: make a lot of money suddenly

EXAMPLE: We hit the jackpot at the casino and came home with a lot of money.

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


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: profitable, making money

EXAMPLE: Our company has been in the black since it was first started.

in the hole

MEANING: in debt, owing money

EXAMPLE: I think that we are going in the hole in our attempts to make our business prosper.

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: unprofitable, losing money

EXAMPLE: The company has been in the red for several months now and will soon have to go bankrupt.

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 earned and spent

EXAMPLE: The accountant has been keeping careful books of all the transactions in the company.

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.


MEANING: money paid illegally for favorable treatment

EXAMPLE: The politician received several illegal kickbacks and had to resign from his job.

lay away money

MEANING: save money

EXAMPLE: I am trying hard to lay away enough money to buy a house.

layaway plan

MEANING: a plan in which one pays some money as a down-payment and then pays a little more when one can and the store holds the article until the full price is paid.

EXAMPLE: We brought our furniture on the layaway plan at the store.

lay out

MEANING: spend, pay

EXAMPLE: I had to lay out a lot of money to get my car fixed so now I don't have any money to go out.

live from hand to mouth

MEANING: live on little money

EXAMPLE: My friend has been living from hand to mouth on his savings from his last job.

live high off/on the hog

MEANING: have the best of everything, live in great comfort

EXAMPLE: My mother and father have been living high on the hog since they won the lottery.


MEANING: have lots of money

EXAMPLE: My uncle is loaded and always has lots of money.

lose your shirt

MEANING: lose all or most of your money

EXAMPLE: I lost my shirt in a business venture and now I have no money.

make a bundle

MEANING: make a lot of money

EXAMPLE: I made a bundle on the stock market and have since bought a house.

make a go of

MEANING: produce good results, succeed


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.
make a killing

MEANING: make a large amount of money

EXAMPLE: My sister made a killing when she worked overseas in the oil industry.

make a living

MEANING: earn enough money to live

EXAMPLE: If you want to make a good living it is necessary to get a good education.

make ends meet

MEANING: have enough money to pay your bills

EXAMPLE: I have been having trouble making ends meet because the rent for my apartment is too high.

make money hand over fist

MEANING: fast and in large amounts

EXAMPLE: My cousin has been making money hand over fist with her business.

mean business

MEANING: be serious

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

money to burn

MEANING: very much money, more money than is needed

EXAMPLE: My aunt has money to burn and is always travelling somewhere.

nest egg

MEANING: money someone has saved up

EXAMPLE: I made a nice nest egg when I was working and I am now able to go to school.


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 a dime

MEANING: in a very small space

EXAMPLE: I had to turn my car on a dime when I entered the parking lot.

on a shoestring

MEANING: with little money to spend, on a very low budget

EXAMPLE: He started his business on a shoestring but now it is very successful.

on hand

MEANING: in one's possession, ready

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

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.

on the house

MEANING: paid for by the owner

EXAMPLE: We went to the restaurant and all of the refreshments were on the house.

pad the bill

MEANING: add false expenses to a bill

EXAMPLE: The plumber who was fixing our plumbing system was padding the bill so we got another plumber.

pass the buck

MEANING: make another person decide something, put the duty or blame on someone else

EXAMPLE: The foreman is always passing the buck and will never take responsibility for anything that he does.

pay an arm and a leg for something

MEANING: pay a high price for something

EXAMPLE: I paid an arm and a leg for my car but I am not very happy with it.

pay dirt

MEANING: a valuable discovery, the dirt in which much gold is found

EXAMPLE: We hit pay dirt when we got the rights to distribute the new product.

pay off 1

MEANING: pay and discharge from a job

EXAMPLE: The company paid off their employees and shut down for the winter.

Pay-off 2

MEANING: bribe

EXAMPLE: The mayor received a pay-off and was forced to resign from his position.

pay through the nose

MEANING: pay at a very high price, pay too much

EXAMPLE: I paid through the nose when I had to buy gasoline in the small town.

penny for your thoughts

MEANING: tell someone what you are thinking about

EXAMPLE: "I will give you a penny for your thoughts", I said to my friend who was looking out of the window.

penny-wise and pound foolish

MEANING: wise or careful in small things to the costly neglect of important things

EXAMPLE: My friend is penny-wise and pound foolish and economizes on small things but wastes all of his money on big things.

pick up the tab

MEANING: pay the bill

EXAMPLE: I picked up the tab for my sister and her three children at the restaurant.

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.
piggy bank

MEANING: a small bank, sometimes in the shape of a pig for saving coins

EXAMPLE: The small boy saved up much money in his piggy bank.

pinch pennies

MEANING: be careful with money, be thrifty

EXAMPLE: My grandmother always pinches pennies and will never spend her money foolishly.

pony up


EXAMPLE: I had to pony up a lot of money to pay to get my car repaired.

put in your two cents

MEANING: give your opinion

EXAMPLE: I stood up in the meeting and put in my two cents before I was asked to sit down.

quick buck

MEANING: money earned quickly and easily (and sometimes dishonestly)

EXAMPLE: The company is only interested in making a quick buck and is not at all interested in quality.

rain check

MEANING: a promise to repeat an invitation at a later date

EXAMPLE: I decided to take a rain check and go to the restaurant another time.

rake in the money

MEANING: make a lot of money

EXAMPLE: We have been raking in the money at our restaurant and will soon be able to go on a long holiday.

red cent

MEANING: the smallest coin, a trivial sum of money

EXAMPLE: I wouldn't give a red cent for my neighbor's car.

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.

salt away

MEANING: save money

EXAMPLE: My father's uncle salted away thousands of dollars before he died.

scrape together

MEANING: gather small amounts of money (usually with some difficulty) for something

EXAMPLE: We scraped together some money and bought a present for my mother.

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.

set one back


EXAMPLE: My friend asked me how much my new coat had set me back.

shell out


EXAMPLE: My father shelled out a lot of money to get his house painted.

splurge on something

MEANING: spend more money than one might ordinarily spend

EXAMPLE: We decided to splurge and go to a nice restaurant for dinner.

stone broke

MEANING: having no money, penniless

EXAMPLE: His brother is stone broke and won't be able to come to the movie with us.

strapped for cash

MEANING: have no money available

EXAMPLE: I am strapped for cash at the moment so I won't be able to go with you on a holiday.

strike it rich

MEANING: become rich or successful suddenly or without expecting to

EXAMPLE: My grandfather struck it rich searching for gold but when he died he had no money.

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 beating

MEANING: lose money (usually a lot)

EXAMPLE: y friend took a beating on the stock market and has now stopped buying stocks.

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.

tighten one's belt

MEANING: live on less money than usual

EXAMPLE: We decided to tighten our belt and save up some money for a holiday.

two bits

MEANING: twenty-five cents, a quarter of a dollar

EXAMPLE: The newspaper was only two bits a copy.

turn over

MEANING: to buy and then sell something to customers

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

(not worth) two cents

MEANING: almost nothing, something not important or very small

EXAMPLE: The car that my friend bought is not worth two cents.

two cents worth

MEANING: something one wants to say, opinion

EXAMPLE: I asked the president for his two cents worth but he didn't want to give us his opinion.

work out

MEANING: plan, develop

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

(not) worth a cent

MEANING: not worth anything, not of any value

EXAMPLE: That antique desk is not worth a cent although everyone thinks it is very valuable.

worth your salt

MEANING: worth what one is paid

EXAMPLE: Our secretary is worth her salt and is a great asset to our company.

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.

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