20 More Business Terms Explained For Non-Native English Speakers, PART 3

Welcome to Part Three of this series on common metaphorical and other business terms in English, and what they mean – in plain English!

(For the other articles in the series, scroll down to the bottom of this article where you’ll find direct links.)

Business terms explained on How To Write Better

Helping you write better for business in English with these 20 terms:

Business terms for non-native English speakers

How to bite a bullet!

1. Bite the bullet: means to take a decision or action which is difficult and perhaps not likely to be popular with others, but is necessary for the good of all. Comes from a very old expression used before the days of anaesthetics, when patients were told to “bite the bullet” to stop them screaming when the doctors performed an operation on them.

2. Blamestorming: this is related to brainstorm (see Part 2) and is a rather sarcastic way to describe a meeting after a failure of some sort, and how people will try to say it was not their fault.

3. BOGOF: this is an acronym and stands for Buy One, Get One Free – a common type of special offer you see in grocery stores and other places where FMCG are sold (see below).

4. Cash cow: means a business venture that did not cost very much to set up, but now makes a lot of money. Comes from the idea that you make more money from selling milk than you spend to keep and feed your cow.

Business words made easy on How To Write Better

This mother duck has put her babies in a row.

5. Ducks in a row: to get your ducks in a row means to get everything in good order and prepared for what comes next. No-one knows for sure where the term comes from; there are many explanations. Two of the most interesting ones are the way baby ducklings follow their mother in a neat, tidy row – and the game of pool, when an easy pot can be called a “duck.” If you can line up a number of easy pots, you are getting all your ducks in a row.

6. FMCG: these initials (not the same as an acronym!) stand for Fast Moving Consumer Goods. These are goods or products usually at a fairly low selling price, that sell in large numbers in retail stores.

7. Gardening leave: this is a sarcastic way of describing when a company wants an employee to stay away for a time – usually until their notice or contract runs out. This normally is because the company is worried that the employee, having being fired or made redundant will be angry and do something harmful to their business – so they need to keep the person out of the way. The irony is in the word gardening, suggesting that the employee is getting paid leave to look after his or her garden at home.

Business jargon explained on How To Write Better

A nettle plant: not something you would like to grasp

8. Grasping the nettle: means to be brave and decide solve a problem you know will be very difficult – a little like “bite the bullet,” above. Comes from the stinging nettle plant, common in Europe, Asia, northern Africa and western North America. If you touch this plant it really hurts your skin.

9. Glass ceiling: this is supposed to be a barrier you can’t see, but that stops certain groups of people – especially women – from getting ahead in their work or business because other, more powerful groups don’t want them to. Comes from the fact that glass is transparent, and you can’t go up much higher in a room than the ceiling!

10. Joined-up: comes from the term joined-up writing, which properly is called cursive. For children, learning how to do “joined-up writing” is a major step forward in their early education. In business the term is used sarcastically to describe a process that works better after a period when it wasn’t very good! An example of that is “joined-up thinking.”

11. Knee-jerk reaction: a reaction from a person or company that is fast and almost automatic, and probably means the person or people haven’t thought about it enough before reacting. Term is taken from the test your doctor does to check your reflexes, by tapping your leg just below your knee to make your lower leg kick out – which usually it will do whether you want it to or not.

12. Level playing field: means that in a business situation where people or companies are competing with each other, everyone has an equal chance of succeeding. Comes from sports like soccer, football, rugby, cricket, etc. where an uneven playing field can mean one team has either more or less chance of winning.

13. MBWA: initials once again and this time really sarcastic; they stand for Management By Wandering Around, suggesting that managers simply walk around rather than do their jobs properly.

14. Moving the goalposts: another term from football, soccer and rugby. If you were to move the goalposts during a game of football, it would be very unfair on some if not all the players, because it would change the rest of the game, probably making it more difficult – an unfair thing to do. In business, to move the goalposts means to make things more difficult and/or complicated during a project, but usually expecting the same results in the same time, and for the same price.

15. On message: if you write something for your business that is based completely on your whole company’s policy and brand, that writing is “on message.” Also used in politics when a politician gives a speech that agrees with the party policy.

Business slang explained on How To Write Better

Let’s hope neither of these boxers is punching above his weight.

16. Punching above your weight: this comes from the world of boxing, when a boxer tries to fight successfully with a heavier boxer who is certain to be stronger and more powerful. In business, it means you’re trying to achieve something when you don’t have enough knowledge, skill, experience, power, money, etc., to be successful.

17. Quantum leap: this comes from the world of physics, where it means a sudden and very large jump from one state of being to another. In business it means almost the same; a company or person who has become very successful overnight has made a “quantum leap.”

18. Run it up the flagpole: comes from the phrase “let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes” … in other words if it were in, say, an army camp, to raise up a flag and see if any soldiers think it’s important enough to salute it. In business it simply means to try out something new and see how people like it.

19. USP: initials that stand for Unique Selling Proposition or Unique Selling Point. Marketing term that means the most important thing that makes a product or service attractive to possible buyers.

20. VAR: initials that stand for Value Added Reseller. (Could also be pronounced as a word, as an acronym.) This is a company that buys a product, adds things to it and/or improves what it does, etc., and then resells the product on to customers at a profit. Commonly used in the IT / computer industries and in car sales.

Some other ways to help you write better for business in English

If you’re not a native English speaker but want to work and write better in English, this is the series for you. It will help you understand all these English idioms and jargon that can be so confusing and annoying for non-native speakers.

To read Part 1, click here

To read Part 2, click here

To read Part 4, click here

To read Part 5, click here

To read Part 6, click here

To read Part 7, click here

To read Part 8, click here

There is much more business writing help ready for you here on HTWB

And just take a look at the useful resources you can find here…even if your business English isn’t that good – yet!

Questions? Drop Suze a note on suze@suzanstmaur.com.

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