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The Most Helpful Idioms With Meaning and Examples. Topic – Business – Work

English idioms are the spice of language, offering a unique flavor to everyday communication. These common idioms serve as gems, each carrying a distinctive meaning beyond their literal interpretation. Let’s explore the fascinating world of idioms with an idiom example. Consider the phrase “burning the midnight oil,” depicting intense effort or working late into the night. In this idiom sample, the image of a lamp burning late symbolizes diligence and commitment. Understanding idioms with meaning is like deciphering a secret code, unlocking a deeper layer of expression. So, whether you’re “walking on eggshells” or “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” incorporating these idiomatic expressions into your language repertoire adds flair and nuance, transforming ordinary conversations into rich tapestries of communication.

ace up your sleeve If you have an ace up your sleeve, you have something in reserve with which you can gain an advantage. Our new product is an ace up our sleeve
hold all the aces A person who holds all the aces is in a very strong position because they have more advantages than anyone else. Given the high unemployment rates today, employers hold all the aces.
ambulance chaser A lawyer who finds work by persuading people injured in accidents to claim money from the person who caused the accident is called an ‘ambulance chaser’. Peterson and Scott are well-known ambulance chasers – that’s how they make their money!
back to the salt mines Saying that you have to go back to the salt mines is a humorous way of talking about returning to work, usually with some reluctance. We get two days off at Christmas and then it’s back to the salt mines!
bait and switch This term refers to a deceptive commercial practice of advertising a low-priced item to attract customers, then telling them that the product is out of stock and persuading them to buy a more expensive article. This store is famous for its bait and switch tactics.
in the black To say that a person or organisation is in the black means that they are financially sound, have a positive balance on their account and that they owe no money. Don’t worry. Our club is in the black.
black market The black market refers to the illegal buying and selling of goods or currencies. Be careful of what you buy on the black market – it’s not always good quality.
blamestorming A discussion among a group of people who try to determine who or what is to blame for a particular mistake, failure or wrongdoing, is called ‘blamestorming’. A blamestorming session took place following the unfavourable reviews in the press.
blank cheque If you give someone a blank cheque, you authorise them to do what they think is best in a difficult situation Tom was given a blank cheque and told to negotiate the best deal possible.
blue chip company This term refers to a company with a solid reputation for the quality of its products and the stability of its growth and earnings. It’s usually safe to invest in a blue chip company.
above board If a situation or business is described as above board, it is open, honest and legal. There are not secret negotiations. Our dealings have always been above board.
boil the ocean To “boil the ocean” means to waste time on a task or project that is unnecessary, not worth doing or impossible to achieve. I expect you to do the job well but don’t try to boil the ocean!
get down to brass tacks When people get down to brass tacks, they start to discuss the essential aspects of a problem or situation. The situation was so serious that after a few polite exchanges they quickly got down to brass tacks.
break your back If you work extremely hard, or put a lot of effort into achieving something, you break your back to do it. If you want the job done well, you should accept to pay more. He’s not going to break his back for such a low price!
bricks and mortar / bricks and clicks An established trading company (office/shop) is referred to as a ‘brick-and-mortar’ business. Click businesses are usually more flexible than brick-and-mortar operations.
business as usual After an unpleasant or unexpected event, this expression means that everything is continuing in a normal way, in spite of the difficulties. It was business as usual at the supermarket the day after the hold-up.
business before pleasure This expression means that it is considered preferable to finish one’s work before going to relax and enjoy oneself. I’d love to have lunch with you but I’ve got a report to finish – business before pleasure I’m afraid!
business is business This is a way of saying that in financial and commercial matters, friendship or personal feelings should not be allowed to have any influence. I’ll hire your brother only if he is the best candidate. I’m sorry but business is business
can’t stand the pace If you can’t stand the pace, you are unable to do things well when there is a lot of pressure. She once worked for a famous fashion designer but she couldn’t stand the pace.
carve out a niche A person or company who carves out a niche concentrates on a particular segment of the market, to which they supply a product or service, and develop their expertise in that area. In today’s competitive market it is better to carve out a niche and try to become the best in that area.
cash cow A product or service which is a regular source of income for a company is called a cash cow. His latest invention turned out to be a real cash cow.
cash in your chips If you cash in your chips, you sell something, especially shares, either because you need the money or because you think the value is going to fall. Andy cashed in his chips as soon as business started to slow down.
too many chiefs, not enough Indians This expression refers to a situation where there are too many people giving instructions and not enough people doing the work. The business wasn’t successful. There were too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
clinch a deal In a business relationship, if you clinch a deal, you reach agreement on a proposal or offer. Paul’s final argument enabled us to clinch the deal.
cog in the machine If you say that someone is a cog in the machine, you mean that, while they are necessary, they only play a small part in an organisation or plan. The police quickly realized that the suspect was just a cog in the machine.
(make) cold calls If you make cold calls, you telephone potential customers from a list of people you do not know. In my first job I had to make cold calls using the telephone directory.
copper-bottomed To describe something such as a plan, a contract or a financial arrangement as copper-bottomed means that it is completely safe or reliable. He signed a copper-bottomed agreement with a distributor.
corner the market If a company dominates an area of business, and leaves no room for competition, it is said to have cornered the market. By importing large quantities and selling at low prices, they have cornered the market.
creative accounting The term ‘creative accounting’ refers to the presentation of a company’s results in a way that, although generally legal, glosses over the problems and makes the results appear better than they are. It was suggested that some creative accounting might help to attract investors.
cut and dried If you refer to a situation, problem or solution as cut and dried, you mean that it is clear and straightforward with no likely complications. When the new manager arrived, he didn’t find the situation as cut and dried as he had expected.
cutting edge The expression ‘cutting edge’ refers to the newest, most advanced stage in the development of something. The company is at the cutting edge of aeronautics.
dead wood The term ‘dead wood’ refers to people or things which are no longer considered useful or necessary. The new manager wants to reduce costs by cutting out the dead wood.
a dealbreaker Something that is important enough to prevent agreement being reached is called a dealbreaker. We liked the house and the area, but the small garden was a dealbreaker for us.
a done deal This expression is used to refer to an agreement or decision which has been reached on a certain matter. We’re still considering several proposals, so it’s not a done deal yet.
a shady deal A suspicious, dishonest or illegal arrangement or transaction is known as a shady deal. The two sons were always involved in their father’s shady deals.
a square deal A fair and honest transaction, agreement or arrangement is called a square deal. We always get a square deal with that supplier.
it’s/that’s a deal/you’ve got a deal When you’ve reached agreement with someone you can say it’s a deal, that’s a deal or you’ve got a deal! What if I offered you 8$ for both of them? You’ve got a deal!
a deal with the devil A risky arrangement with a person of bad reputation is called a deal with the devil. Jack ran up so much debt that he made a deal with the devil.
sweeten the deal When you sweeten the deal, you make an offer or arrangement more attractive by adding an extra benefit, usually financial. The company sweetened the deal with a pension plan to get him to accept the job.
a sweetheart deal The term sweetheart deal is used to refer to an abnormally lucrative arrangement between two parties. Opponents say the contract was awarded to the builder as part of a sweetheart deal, and is therefore illegal.
do the spadework Someone who does the spadework does the preparatory work or the preliminary research. Although I did all the spadework, my name was never mentioned.
dog and pony show A dog and pony show  is a marketing event or presentation which has plenty of style but not much content, and is essentielly designed to promote sales. Our investors are well-informed businessmen who don’t need a dog and pony show to impress them.
dog eat dog ‘Dog eats dog’ refers to intense competition and rivalry in pursuit of one’s own interests, with no concern for morality. The business world is tough today. There’s a general dog-eat-dog attitude.
in the doldrums To say that a person, a business or the economy in general is in the doldrums means that the situation is gloomy and that nothing new is happening. Despite the recent measures, the economy is in the doldrums.
a done deal ‘A done deal’ refers to an agreement or decision which has been reached on a certain matter. We’re still considering several proposals, so it’s not a done deal yet.
done and dusted When a project, task or activity is done and dusted, it is completely finished or ready. I’ve nearly finished preparing the presentation. When it’s all done and dusted I’ll be able to relax.
donkey work The expression ‘donkey work’ is used to describe the hard, tedious or repetitive parts of a job, or the less interesting work. It’s not fair. I do the donkey work and my boss gets the credit!
doom and gloom A general atmosphere of pessimism, and a feeling that the situation is not going to improve, is referred to as doom and gloom. Fortunately it’s not doom and gloom for all businesses, in spite of the economic situation.
down the drain To say that money, time or energy has gone down the drainmeans that it has been wasted or lost. His years of research went down the drain when the company went bankrupt.
drastic times call for drastic measures This expression means that when faced with a difficult situation, it is sometimes necessary to take actions which in normal circumstances would appear extreme. After Johnny’s third accident, his father confiscated his car, saying: drastic times call for drastic measures!
dream ticket If you refer to two people as a dream ticket, you think they would work well together and be successful. Clinton and Obama teaming up for the elections would be a dream ticket for many Democrats.
(a) dry run (or dummy run) If you organise a rehearsal, a trial exercise or a practice session of something, in realistic conditions, to see how well it will work before it is launched, you do a dry run. Let’s do a dry run of the ceremony to make sure everything goes smoothly.
above and beyond the call of duty If a person does something which is above and beyond the call of duty, they show a greater degree of courage or effort than is usually required or expected in their job. The fire-fighter received a medal for his action which went above and beyond the call of duty.
eager beaver The term eager beaver refers to a person who is hardworking and enthusiastic, sometimes considered overzealous The new accountant works all the time – first to arrive and last to leave. He’s a real eager beaver!
elbow grease If you use elbow grease, you need energy and strength to do physical work such as cleaning or polishing. It took a considerable amount of elbow grease to renovate the old house.
farm something out If something, such as work, is farmed out, it is sent out to be done by others. We farmed out the packaging to another company.
(have a) finger in every pie If someone has a finger in every pie, they are involved in a large and varied number of activities. For information about the activities in this town, you should talk to John Brown. He’s got a finger in every pie.
work your fingers to the bone A person who works their fingers to the bone is extremely hardworking. Tony deserves his success; he worked his fingers to the bone when he started the business.
(have a) foot in the door To say that someone has a foot in the door means that they have a small but successful start in something and will possibly do well in the future. With today’s unemployment, it is difficult to get a foot in the door in any profession.
get a foothold If you get a foothold somewhere, you secure a position for yourself in a business, profession or organisation. The contract got the firm a foothold in the local administration.
(have a) free hand If you have a free hand, you have permission to make your own decisions, especially in a job. My boss gave me a free hand in the choice of supplier.
funny business A business which is conducted in a deceitful, dishonest or unethical manner is called funny business. I’ve got suspicions about that association. I think they’re up to some funny business.
get your hands dirty If you get your hands dirty in your job, you become involved in all aspects of it, including work that is physical, unpleasant or less interesting. His willingness to get his hands dirty won the respect and approval of the whole team.
get something off the ground If you get something off the ground, you put it into operation after having organised it. After a lot of hard work, we finally got the campaign off the ground.
get the show on the road If you manage to put a plan or idea into action, you get the show on the road. OK, we’ve got all we need, so let’s get the show on the road.
give someone a run for their money If you give someone a run for their money, you present strong competition in circumstances where the other person expects to win easily. We didn’t get the contract but we gave our competitors a run for their money!
go belly up If a business or project goes belly up, it is unsuccessful or goes bankrupt. The restaurant went belly up before the end of the first year.
go for a song If something goes for a song, it is sold at an unexpectedly low price. I was able to buy the car simply because it was going for a song.
go out of business If a shop, firm or enterprise goes out of business, it closes down or goes bankrupt. If the new road bypasses the town, a lot of shops will go out of business.
(a) going concern A business or activity that is dynamic and successful is a going concern. They opened a coffee shop that is a going concern today.
golden handcuffs The term golden handcuffs refers to a large sum of money or a generous financial arrangement granted to an executive as an incentive to stay in their job, or to ensure long-term cooperation after their departure. golden handshake
A golden handshake is a generous sum of money given to a person when they leave a company or retire (sometimes given to encourage early retirement). golden opportunity A golden opportunity is a favourable time or an excellent occasion which should not be missed.
“An internship in that company would be a golden opportunity for you – it might lead to a permanent job later.” golden parachute A golden parachute is a clause in an executive’s employment contract stating that the executive will receive certain large benefits if their employment is terminated.
grease someone’s palm If you accuse someone of greasing somebody’s palm, you are accusing them of giving money to someone in order to gain an unfair advantage or to obtain something they want. In some countries, it is common practice to grease government officials’ palms.
  1. What are idioms? Idioms are expressions or phrases that hold a figurative meaning beyond their literal interpretation. They add color and depth to language.

  2. Why are idioms important in English? Idioms help convey complex ideas succinctly and vividly, enhancing communication and offering cultural insights.

  3. Can you provide some examples of idioms? Certainly! Examples include “raining cats and dogs” (heavy rain), “kick the bucket” (pass away), and “bite the bullet” (face a difficult situation).

  4. How do I understand the meaning of idioms? Understanding idioms often requires context and cultural familiarity. Exploring their origins and usage in sentences helps grasp their meanings.

  5. Are all idioms universal or do they vary by region? Idioms can vary across regions and cultures. While some idioms are universal, many are culturally specific.

  6. Are there common idioms used in everyday conversation? Yes, several idioms, like “break a leg” (good luck) or “piece of cake” (easy task), are frequently used in daily conversations.

  7. Do idioms have fixed meanings? Generally, yes. However, some idioms might have slight variations in meaning or usage based on context or region.

  8. How can I incorporate idioms into my writing or speech? Using idioms contextually and accurately can add richness to your language. Start by understanding their meanings and then applying them naturally.

  9. Are idioms only found in English? No, idioms exist in many languages. Each language has its own set of colorful expressions and phrases.

  10. Where can I learn more idioms and their meanings? Online resources, books on idioms, and even language learning platforms offer extensive lists of idioms with explanations of their meanings and origins.

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