20 further business terms for non-native English speakers – PART 5

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

(For direct links to the other articles in the series, scroll down to the end of this article.)

Business terms for non-native English speakers, Part 5

English is the world’s main business language, but some words and phrases are hard to understand if you’re not a native English speaker. This series of articles will help you with the more difficult ones.

Here’s more help to write better for business in English, with 20 popular terms:

1. Black Friday: this is the Friday after the USA’s Thanksgiving Day which falls on the fourth Thursday of November. There are a number of theories on why it’s called Black Friday, but the most popular is that people in Philadelphia named it because it caused unreal disruption to traffic on what is usually still the Thanksgiving holiday. Anyway, because most people in the USA take that day off, it’s a superb opportunity for retailers to offer amazing deals on goods. And because Black Friday is pretty close to Christmas, Hannukah and other gift-giving dates, it capitalises on these to drive even more traffic.

2. Brain dump: pretty much what it says, although that’s a bit basic. Essentially it’s what happens when someone “dumps” or transfers a lot of information to you or someone else; something you may find difficult to take in all at once. However, it’s something you may need to take on if you are new to a job or role in business.

3. Brownie points: this comes from the scouting/guiding culture developed by Baden-Powell, and refers to the points these junior Girl Guides gained from achieving various goals as set by the adults.

In business, “brownie points” are a slightly sarcastic way of describing things people do to impress their bosses or customers, without those things necessarily being of much value.

4. Close of play: from the cricket term which means the end of the day’s game. In business it means the end of the business day which varies from country to country but in western cultures is usually between 17:00 and 18:00 hours.

5. Consumer durables: a marketing term which refers to substantial manufactured goods that people buy and use, and expect to last for some time – e.g. cars, fridges, washing machines, etc.

6. Cubicle monkeys: refers to people who work for most of their careers in a cubicle within an open-plan office. As you can imagine it’s rather insulting and suggests that the “cubicle monkey” concerned is not capable of doing anything more important.

7. Elevator pitch/speech: a very short speech that you give about yourself or a product/project/service you represent. The word “elevator” (or “lift” as it’s called in the UK and some other countries) is used because the original phrase was based on what you could say about yourself to someone in the time it took for you and her/him to go up to the top floor of a building in a lift/elevator!

A “pitch” is probably taken from baseball where it means a throw of the ball by the “pitcher” to the “batter.” A short speech like this is also called a “30/45/60 second pitch.”  

8. Eye on the ball: another phrase taken from the sporting world, anywhere from soccer to baseball to cricket to golf. In all of those sports it’s important to keep your eye on the ball while you’re playing. In business, the same is true – you must stay focused on the important issues and not be distracted, hence the use of this term.

9. Facetime: this is a rather silly word that, in today’s world of digital communications, Skype, Blab, Google Hangouts and all that, just means sitting down with someone in “real life” and using the time for a (real) face-to-face discussion. The word has also been used by Apple to describe their app which allows you to see the people you are talking to via your phone, tablet, etc.

10. Gatekeeper: a word taken from old English “stately homes” and business establishments where you don’t get into the grounds of an important building without the person who works on the “gate” – in other words, the main entrance – approving you and letting you in. Now, “gatekeepers” in business usually are people who are paid to check out who you are and what you want before allowing you access to the important person you need to contact.

11. Golden handcuffs: especially if you are a senior person in a company and you decide to leave, you may be offered attractive money terms so you do not go and work for the company’s competitors – or even, for anyone else during a period of time. This payment is often called the “golden handcuffs.”

12. Guestimate: a simple combination of two words: guess, and estimate.

As you can imagine, “guestimate” just means an estimate that’s based on what someone feels, rather than anything else.

13. Hardball: a term from the US game of baseball. People will tell you many stories about the origin of this term but I think it comes from the difference between softball, in baseball, where the ball is about the size of a grapefruit and is padded with soft material so it doesn’t hurt when it hits you … and hardball, which is the type of ball used in high-level games and is smaller but harder and certainly would hurt you if it hit you. In business, my definition makes sense, because “playing hardball” means to be aggressive and without mercy.  

14. Licence to print money: this refers to a business activity that is so popular it doesn’t need much effort to be successful. The metaphor of a “licence to print money” means that the success of the project is as if someone had given you a licence to print money of your own, on an unlimited basis.

15. Marzipan layer: this comes from a British cake recipe where you have a cake, normally made from dried fruit, alcohol like brandy and other ingredients. This recipe is normally used for Christmas cakes, as well as cakes to celebrate weddings, christenings and more. When preparing such a cake you normally cover the basic cake with a layer of marzipan – an almond-based mixture – and then cover that with a conventional sugar-based icing.

So, in business, a “marzipan layer” refers to a layer of management which lies just below the top team in an organisation.

16. NSFW: initials that stand for Not Safe For Work. Originally this was used as a symbol to warn readers that whatever you were writing about was “not safe for work” because it might upset your boss or your company generally. Now, though, the term is used to mean that what you have written is not appropriate for any specific group – particularly for children and/or young adults.

17. Revolving door: originally this term, in a business/political context, refers to people and processes that move around both public sector work and private sector work. More to the point, though, it suggests the way people in business – and business concepts and ideas – tend to progress in circular patterns.

18. Reach out: a term that has become popular recently because people seem to be working on much more personal terms, which is very nice and friendly. In its original sense, to “reach out” literally means to make an effort to contact someone who might need your help.

However now, the term just means to “contact” … e.g. “I am reaching out to you to share our latest prices on ….etc.”

19. Salami tactics: because “salami” (an Italian sausage) needs to be sliced to be enjoyed, the term “salami tactics” refers to business or political tactics which aren’t nice at all. They refer to slicing away at opposition or elimination of opposition until it goes away. 

20. Squaring the circle: because “squaring the circle” is almost impossible in mathematical terms, in business the term is used to describe very difficult or even impossible business circumstances.

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 3, click here

To read Part 4, 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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