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Business English Jargon and Slang

You can download this list as a Word document with five A4 pages here: Business Jargon

Colloquial American Business Jargon Defined

From Pacific Overtures

Most of us unconsciously use jargon or slang that doesn't mean much to speakers of English as a second language. Over the years the author at Pacific Overtures recorded some common phrases used by Americans during U.S.-Japanese business meetings.  These terms and phrases may have been rather puzzling to the Japanese participants!
- Written by Robert L. Sharp

Saying Meaning
20-20 hindsight perfect knowledge but too late
(someone is) the 800 pound gorilla most important party to a transaction/or in a group
a lick and a promise incomplete or limited preparation
a rising tide that lifts all boats something that benefits all (Pres. Kennedy)
an Old (China. Japan, etc. ) Hand someone with long experience in the place
at loggerheads disagreement
at the 11th hour at the last minute
base-tending protecting one's assets
begin on a shoestring start with limited finances
bootstrapped develop by yourself without outside support
both sides of the aisle from politics, Involving both parties
bring to the table what you offer to a transaction
cake walk easily accomplished
carve out a niche find a special position to monopolize
Catch 22 what ever you do, it won't work (Joseph Heller book)
Chinese wall separation between two parts of same unit
computer virus or "bug" software corruption
deep pockets wealthy; has ability to pay
do you read me? do you understand (military communications)
dog and pony show financial presentation
don't make waves don't disagree or contradict policy
down in the dumps depressed
downtime period when equipment isn't available to perform
draw a line in the sand make final conditions that cannot be changed
featherbedding a job that is not necessary (union term)
fence-mending apology; smoothing bad relations
free ride obtaining benefit for no cost
from Day One from the beginning
from scratch from the beginning
goal-tending protecting one's assets
going great guns doing well
hacker computer expert breaking into a system
hold feet to fire force, bring pressure
how does that play in Peoria what is reaction of average person at grass roots
I need it yesterday jocular way to say it is needed immediately
in the black profitable
Indian Summer unusual warm weather after summer is gone
interface the system architecture computer talk; tying into system
100K $100,000; K for kilo, or 1,000
it occurred on his watch it happened when he was in charge (military saying)
it should be a two way street both sides should benefit/contribute
it will never fly it won't work
it's a jungle out there a difficult market with tough competitors
Jerry-built cheap goods (W.W.I pejorative for (German)
jump through hoops trying very hard (from a dog trick)
keep a low profile or lie low
lay cards on the table be perfectly honest
learning curve speed at which one learns
level playing field equal treatment
lion's share largest portion
marching orders instructions (from the military)
nest-guarding to protect
not amount to a hill of beans no value
number crunching accounting or financial analysis
on a roll doing well, moving forward
on the lam flee from the law (criminal slang)
on the same wavelength mutual understanding
overview review of situation
pierce the corporate veil see the true inside story
pipe dream unrealistic, from opium smoking
plain vanilla simple basic version
play hardball deal in a tough manner
Politics make strange bedfellows mutual interests bring different people together
Pooh-poohing rejecting
power lunch big business dealing at lunch
pushing the envelope expanding activities beyond current restrictions
put on the map make well-known
put the scotch to to stop
received over the transom unsolicited (old style of door with window above)
reinvent the wheel create something that already exists
right off the bat immediately
robbing Peter to pay Paul taking from one to give to another with no net gain
rule of thumb generally used but imprecise measurement
run it up the flagpole (and see if it gets a salute) test to see if it gains approval
sandbag hit from behind unexpectedly
save our bacon save from danger
savvy smart, aware, knowledgeable
sea change a large change
sea legs (to get one’s) to gain stability
seat of the pants operation intuitive (flying without instruments)
set on its ear disrupt
shotgun approach strike out widely, as opposed to targeted rifle shot
slam dunk from basketball; a complete success
smoke and mirrors tricks to hide the true situation
somewhere (sometime) down the pike sometime later on (pike is an old word for road)
square peg in a round hole someone that doesn't fit or perform appropriately
step up to the plate take responsibility (from baseball)
tailspin uncontrolled descent
talk until blue In the face persuasion with no result
the bottom line final result or basic meaning (from accounting)
the flip side the other side (from flipping over a phonograph record)
the Genie is out of the bottle something that can never be changed back
the name of the game (is...) the basic purpose
the proof of the pudding is in the eating find out result with actual performance
the whole nine yards no idea why, but means all, everything (football?)
to grandfather something grant exception to the rule due to preexisting status
tongue In cheek jokingly or not truthfully
took a haircut on that one (or, took a bath) took a loss
tweaking, e.g. the economy slight adjustment
unwind a deal undo, take apart
wallpaper the meeting include people favorable to your position
what can you bring to the party (or table) what is your contribution
what makes him tick what is his motivation
whistling past the graveyard trying to keep up one’s courage
whose ox gets gored who will be harmed by this plan
zero-sum game if someone wins, someone must lose
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