Studying idioms is an important part of improving your vocabulary to a level that will enable you to interact in English with confidence in a variety of situations. There are hundreds of idioms which are frequently used in business conversations and correspondence. Many of these idioms have their origins in sports, which makes sense when you consider the competitive nature of business. Today we’ll look at just a few of the most common business idioms, but before we kick things off (meaning: start, origin: football) I’d like to give you a little advice:
ESL students sometimes tend to go overboard (meaning: do something to excess, origin: sailing) with idioms, trying to insert 10 of their favourite recently learnt idioms into a 2 minute conversation, which can result in a lack of clarity, often bordering on gibberish. My advice is to study idioms in order to improve your general comprehension and only use them when you are confident they are well suited to the situation at hand.
Anyway, let’s get the ball rolling (meaning: start, origin: numerous ball sports).
meaning: rough estimate
Tom: How much do you think this production delay will cost us?
Frank: I’m afraid I haven’t made the calculations yet.
Tom: Could you just give me a ballpark figure?
Frank: I’d say we’re looking at $10,000 per day.
“the ball’s in your court”
meaning: it’s your turn to react or make a decision
“take the bait”
meaning: accept a tempting offer
Tom: How are negotiations for the Simpson contract going?
Frank: We’ve just submitted our best offer. The ball’s in their court now.
Tom: Hopefully they take the bait.
“behind the eight-ball”
meaning: to be in a difficult or impossible situation
Frank: Our main supplier has just declared bankruptcy. This puts us right behind the eight-ball.
Tom: Yes, I know. We’ll just have to find a new supplier ASAP.
Frank: I’m afraid that might be easier said than done.
“in the running”
meaning: competing/having a chance of winning
origin: horse racing
“take the reins”
meaning: to assume power or control
origin: horse racing
Frank: The boss is going to retire in a few months. I wonder who will take the reins?
Tom: Difficult to say. There are 3 or 4 in the running, yourself included.
Frank: Thanks, but I don’t like my chances. The others are far more experienced.