HI there, business jargon … explained from H to I

Would you dare subject your “head honcho” to a “haymaker,” or would you be “in a pickle” were you to do so? More English business jargon terms and their origins – this time starting with H and I.

English Business Jargon on HTWB

Do you “have money to burn,” but find that “if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen?

Hard head: someone who probably is very good at what they do, but does not take criticism lightly, or someone who is stubborn (or both!) convinced that they are right no matter what. A 20th century term. Can also mean someone who has hard convictions about their area of expertise and has every justification for being so. Finally, can refer to someone who is “hard headed” and so does not allow emotional issues to interfere with their business or otherwise strategic decisions, but who ultimately has everyone’s best interests at heart.

Hasn’t batted an eyelid: given that people who are nervous or stressed are supposed to blink frequently, this term – popularized in 20th century English language markets – refers to someone who has not shown any sign of concern, agitation, worry, excitement or other emotion because they are not blinking more often than they would in relaxed circumstances.

Have a field day: a “field day” in the UK often refers to a sports or other recreational activity that takes place outdoors – usually of a competitive nature – and is an occasion where everyone can let go and burst forth with energy, fun, and other such emotions. The term’s often used not only to describe company social days but also occasions when they (or competitors) get the chance to really excel at something and make the most of it via marketing and sales. Like many other business terms, this one comes from military sources and although present day military forces probably don’t use the term any more, it’s worth remembering that it comes from when forces were in action in field maneuvers. Why? Because the first reference we have for that meaning is from 1747, in Scheme Equip. Men of War. 

Have a short fuse: this means to become angry, excited, or otherwise emotionally excited, very easily. Although modern electrical technology has long since left the concept of traditional fuses behind – where “fuses” were tangible devices (of varying lengths) that could be burned through and therefore cause major problems – the term still exists and means a lot. A “short fuse” means a short piece of whatever to burn through before all h*ll lets loose. Someone who has “a short fuse” will explode, catch fire or otherwise become very argumentative very quickly, and possibly without thinking their issue out properly.

Have money to burn: a 20th century expression that rather rudely describes someone or some organization that is so wealthy it could burn cash and not notice the deficit. Often it’s used to describe people who have so much money they don’t know what to do with it, and so spend it on things that are utterly wasteful, unnecessary and probably bizarre.

Haymaker: not a term related to farming, unfortunately. This word relates to a type of punch in, er, various types of combat, delivered when an arm hits sideways from the shoulder without much bend from the elbow, so ensuring a very powerful strike. The term has been taken from the action of an old-fashioned scythe when cutting hay and other crops, as the arm movement is similar. Today it’s a popular term in contemporary business jargon, usually used as a metaphor for a major action – often negative – that nonetheless resolves an issue quickly, and probably dramatically.

Head honcho: a lovely term meaning “the boss.” Although most of us assume this term comes from older indigenous American sources, ironically it comes from the Japanese hanchō, which means “leader of a  group.” It seems that during World War Two the US Military picked up on this term and adopted it for their own use, and it is still used by US Forces, especially when operating in the Pacific Rim areas.

Head over heels: (and a number of less decorous derivatives, e.g. *ss over t*t ) … a term often used to describe how someone, or occasionally something, has become so in love with someone or something that they are spining wildly and deliriously engaged in whatever. In personal terms it’s easy to see how this term applies to individuals, but in business it can represent a corporate love story that doesn’t necessarily lead to a long-term marriage. The term is first attributed to Herbert Lawrence’s Contemplative Man, in 1771.

Heart centered: an early 21st century term that’s used to describe a business which is more about doing good than it is about being commercial. Some may wonder if the two notions can possibly co-exist, but many such business owners seem to be managing well. These businesses also can be called “social enterprizes” and “not-for-profts” where there is a need to make some profits, but only to be invested back into the enterprize.

Hit the books: a contemporary phrase meaning that students should get studying, possible as opposed to having a good time at university or college – especially when exams are looming. An American term which now pervades most other English language markets, and – hopefully – English as an additional language, too. If you’re a student, “hit the books” and make sure you get the grades and qualification you want.

Hit the roof: if you “hit the roof,” it’s because you have become so agitated / angry / upset / all of the above, that you “levitate” beyond normal levels and because you are (metaphorically) exploding you could (metaphorically) rise up and “hit the roof.” A 20th century term that is still common today.

Hold your horses: means to stop in your current forward motion, be ready to think and maybe re-align your activities. This lovely term comes from the 19th century in the USA when folks talked about “hold your hosses” (“hoss” was slang for “horse,” although who knows why that should have been…) Even in those days it meant to hold up and think again about whatever you were planning to do. Seems appropriate that the expression should still be valid today.

Holier than thou: an expression that comes from the Christian religion, but refers to anyone who uses religious or other issues to try to attain superiority. The term is also used to describe someone who thinks they are morally superior and often is disapproving of others’ views, behavior, etc.

Holy cow: a euphemism for a stronger term that expresses shock, dismay, surprise, etc. It seems to have arisen from expressions in predominantly English-speaking Christian cultures, especially the USA, based on “Holy Christ.” Similar expressions include “holy moly,” “holy smoke,” etc.

Hoodwink: to hoodwink means to deceive and/or prevent someone from realizing the truth about an issue, etc. Although the word “wink” has come to mean the quick closing and opening of a human eyelid, it seems that in the 16th century a “hoodwink” was a device to blind people before such occasions as executions and beheadings, back in the 16th century. “Hoodwinking” victims was also a popular way for thieves of those eras to get away with their crimes. The current of use of the term “to hoodwink,” apparently, has been around since the 17th century.

Horses for courses: a rather weak term that people use when they want to express something that is appropriate for a particular group or type of people, experiences, etc. You talk about “horses for courses” when referring to actions or circumstances appropriate in some ways, but not necessarily in others. Opinions on the origins of this term vary a bit, but nearly all focus on the horse racing world in which “horses for courses” is used to match horses of one particular talent to the race, competition, type of “going” etc., that’s most appropriate for their particular skills. The term was first noticed in England at the end of the 19th century.

Hot head: someone who is, or has, a “hot head” – namely a quick reaction to stimulus and not necessarily a positive one. We’re told that this expression dates back to the mid 17th century when it meant a “short tempered person.” Variants of it included “hot mouthed,” and “hothead” in Elizabethan times. Going back even further, the Old English term “hatheort,” meant anger, rage and hot heart.

Hot water: to find yourself in “hot water” means to be in trouble. Much as “hot water” is a pleasant prospect when you think about a modern-day bath or shower, the extreme version of it is, of course, very unpleasant. The term has been around for a long time: its origins come from the early 16th century when, should you get splashed or otherwise involved with very hot water, you could be in very deep trouble.

Humble pie: if you eat “humble pie” you openly admit you were wrong about something. It seems that in the USA the term is more usually expressed as “eating crow,” and the “humble pie” element is predominantly British. The types of pie leading to the present day from the term’s origins going back to about the 13th century when “numbles,” noumbles” and later “umbles” meant some rather undesirable meat parts, lead us to understand that if you were obliged to eat these somewhat unsavory dishes you really were a bit of a loser. That meaning still hangs around today.

Hush money: hush money is paid to someone, surreptitiously / under the table, to ensure their silence about a business deal or other transaction that must be kept quiet. The word “hush” here is significant. Mainly a 20th century expression used in most English language countries.

I am speechless: a contemporary expression – also “I am utterly speechless,” “I am at a loss for words,” etc – used by people who are so overwhelmed by shock, joy or other strong emotion that they can’t think what to say, when they should actually be saying something. If nothing else, using this expression gives them a bit of time in which to think of something to say!

If it comes up: a contemporary phrase people use when referring to a topic or issue that may or may not arise in a conversation. E.g. “we shouldn’t talk about the new factory today unless it comes up at the meeting.”

If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen, if you don’t like it get off the bus, if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined … all these contemporary metaphors mean that if you can’t cope with the work you’re supposed to be doing, you either should not have taken the job in the first place, or should give it up now. All are self-explanatory except perhaps for #3, which is usually used in a humorous way…

In a jam, in a pickle: this term means to be in some sort of trouble or difficulty. Given that both “jam” and “pickle” are sticky, thick substances, to be stuck in them suggests a problem! However “jam” here can also mean a “tight spot” i.e. a difficult situation, where “jam” is derived form the verb meaning to force something into a space that’s basically too small for it, hence creating that tight spot

In the bag: a project or other entity that can be assumed (usually as a prediction) to be comfortably and successfully completed is said to be “in the bag.” The term was first used in the USA in the early 20th century in the game of baseball, as played by the New York Giants. When their team was in the lead, someone would take the ball bag off the pitch; they believed in a superstition that once that happened the game would be “in the bag” and they were bound to win. Ironically the term was used a few years earlier in Australia referring to race horses; however a horse that was “in the bag” was thought likely to lose!

In the dark: to keep someone “in the dark,” as the metaphor suggests, is to ensure they are not up to date on what’s happening. To be “in the dark” yourself means you don’t know what’s happening.

In the hole: sometimes (wrongly) said as “in the hold.” The term comes from the game of poker, where a card that is dealt face down is said to be “in the hole” because it can’t be seen by anyone. It was first noted in the late 19th century in the USA. As a metaphor, it means to be in some sort of difficulty or potential difficulty, usually pertaining to money or business.

In the pink: interestingly this phrase was first noted back in the late 16th century in William Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo and Juliet. The words “I am the pinke of curtesie.” However, the word “pinke” at that time meant “pinnacle, or “peak” rather than a state health as it does now. Through the centuries several famous writers, including William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens, began to use the word more in relation to the “pink” of a healthy baby’s complexion. You can use the term to describe good health, or to describe a healthy business or other enterprize.

It’s not cricket: a British term referring to something that doesn’t seem quite honest or ethical. British cricket has been known to known to be very carefully regulated (as are most popular sports these days) since its inception in the 15th century and the term is still widely used in some English language markets and/or where the game of cricket is commonly played.

Watch out for more “English Business Jargon” … being published as a series here on HTWB and as a book in 2018 by Business Expert Press, USA.

In the meantime if you think of any English business jargon that should be explored and explained, please share it here in the comments!

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