Here’s PART 7 – 20 more business terms for non-native English speakers

Hi again everyone. Welcome to Part Seven of this series on 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 bottom of this one.)

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In Part 7, we look at 20 more metaphors used as business terms

Most languages use similes and metaphors and people who write in English are especially fond of them. Both are ways of using a unrelated phrase to describe an action or item, usually in an amusing or clever way.

A simile nearly always contains either the word “like” or “as” and compares something or someone with the unrelated phrase. So an example would be, to describe a pretty girl, “she was as pretty as a picture.” Or, if someone has a loud voice, you could write “his voice sounded like a foghorn.”

A metaphor does the same thing but without using “like” or “as.” So, to describe a large man more creatively, you might say “he was a great Grizzly Bear of a man.”

English business terms that use metaphors

1.Big picture: this term is said to come from the days when you would go to the cinema (movies) and watch a number of things – often short films or even news, before the days of television, plus advertising, etc. – before the main film was shown. This main film was known as “the big picture.” Today the term means an overview, or a general view of a whole situation.

2.Big ticket item: a product that is being sold at a high price, and also may represent a higher than normal profit margin. The term refers to the “ticket” or label you’ll find on many goods for sale, and a “big ticket” has enough space in which you can write a large number – in other words a high price…

3.Bottom line: from the term used in accounting, bookkeeping and finance. It’s on the bottom line of calculations that the true, total cost or amount is found. So the “bottom line” means the real point, or final conclusion, of a business deal, project, problem, etc.

4.Cloud based computing: this comes from the internet term meaning, well, the internet … which is a bit like a cloud in the sky. The term is used to describe information that exists on servers (storage) far away on the internet, rather than on your own local servers or other computer storage. The benefit is that you don’t have to spend money on buying servers etc. of your own. It also means that other people you work with can use the information easily.

And, it means that you can find and use your work wherever you are in the world, even from your phone. More about Cloud Computing here.

5.Draw a line under it: here we need to go back to our days at school when once we had finished writing an answer to a question or doing a math sum, we would draw a line under it in our school book to show that we had finished it. As a business metaphor, this means to stop working on or worrying about something so you can move on to new work.

6.Game plan: another sporting term, mainly from the USA. This is used for various team sports, especially baseball, American football and ice hockey. It is what it says; the way a particular game should be played by your team, depending on your knowledge of the opposing team and any other useful information. In business it’s used in the same way. A “game plan” is what your business team will use to organise and carry out a project or campaign. Game plans, whether in sport or business, need to be flexible so as things move forward you can make changes if you need to.

7.Get into bed with: from the personal term that means to have a sexual relationship with someone. In business it’s used when two companies or other organisations work together on a project or other activity. It’s often used in a slightly rude way, when the person writing the term does not really approve of the partnership…

8.Heads-up: in modern times to give someone a “heads up” means to give them a warning, or share some news with them that they didn’t know. The term is said to come from two sources.

One, is the “heads-up” military term going back 200 years or more, where soldiers were told to keep their “heads up” so they would see what was happening in battle.

The second source is in the US game of baseball, again – from many years ago – when the team members fielding (waiting some distance from the key players to catch the ball and throw it back into the centre area) were told to keep their “heads up” so they knew exactly where the ball was at any time.

9.Leading edge: a term that comes originally from the airplane industry. It refers to the areas of an airplane part that first meet the airflow, so their design and construction are very important. Today we hear about “leading edge technology,” which is based on the original airplane meaning but also makes extra use of the word “leading” … because that also can mean “best,” or “first in its industry.”

10.Lipstick index: this is a term that many women find offensive because it picks on female consumers’ buying habits. However it is still used to describe the way that consumer trends behave in times of financial problems. It is said that this term was first used by the chairman of Estée Lauder cosmetics, when he thought that women buying goods for themselves were spending less money due to the economic recession in the late 2000s. This was based on his view that in times of financial hardship women might buy a lipstick, which doesn’t cost much, and would not spend more on expensive items like clothes and shoes. The “lipstick index” shows how much women are spending which the Estée Lauder chairman though was a good indication of consumer spending generally.

11.Mushroom management: here is a gardening metaphor.

There are two basic versions of what mushroom management means; they are very alike but one is ruder than the other!

Both are comparisons between how to grow mushrooms, and how to manage a company very badly – usually where managers do not communicate with staff. Here is the more polite version … “mushroom management” means to keep them in the dark and shovel dirt all over them. Which works well to grow mushrooms…

12.Open-door management: when a company uses open-door management, it usually means that all managers and directors keep their “doors open” so staff are free to go in and discuss anything that they want to with the senior people.

13.Out of left field: once again this term comes from the US game of baseball. The “left field” (also see #8 above) is farthest away from the bases. So anyone throwing in from the left field has the most difficult job to do. In business, the term is used to describe an action that may be difficult to achieve or make successful.

14.Pushing the envelope: here we are not talking about an envelope that you use to post a letter. In this case it refers to a mathematical “envelope” which acts as a sort-of container for whatever you’re working on, and its limits are as far as you can go .

In general business use, to “push the envelope” means to go beyond (or at least try to go beyond) a project’s limits to see what more you can do for it.

15.Raising the bar: generally thought to refer to the high jump competition in athletics, when “raising the bar” demands more strength and talent from the competitors. In business it means much the same: to raise the standards. This can refer to upgrading the quality of a product or service, or to the standards required by new employees, etc.

16.Safe pair of hands: a term that refers to the obvious meaning, i.e. someone or something you can trust to look after your project, product, service, etc., because if that’s in their “hands” it will be safe. In recent years the term has come to mean not only “safe,” but also a bit boring … in other words “safe” but not offering any new or interesting thoughts.

17.Singing from the same hymn/song sheet: in many religions and of course in choirs where people sing together, often people will share the words and music from a piece of paper or a page in a book. In business and other areas, using this phrase means that everyone is aware and informed of the same information so that you are all able to work together effectively.

18.Stand up and be counted: an old-fashioned expression meaning to be brave enough to stand up and promote your opinion in front of other people, even if they don’t agree with you. Still used in business today.

19.Think outside the box: this term has been around since the 1960s and comes from North America.

In this way, “the box” refers to the way people think if they are just sticking to the rules and don’t have the courage or imagination to go beyond the “box” of old-fashioned but established ideas.

To “think outside the box” means to get away from older concepts, and come up with new and better ideas without being scared of annoying people who have older views.

20.Widows and orphans: this is a text editing term. In general business writing terms it refers to lines of text at the end or beginning of sentences or paragraphs where there is just one word left over, which goes on to the next page. These are best avoided, especially in a document you’re writing that needs to look professional.

And that’s it for this week. Tune in next week for 20 more explanations of English business terms to help you with your English business writing!

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 5, click here

To read Part 6, 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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