Rolling the RRRs of English business jargon and slang…

Do you rock when you rise and shine, or does someone have to reach out and railroad you? More of our ridiculous language’s jargon and slang, for business and beyond.

Jargon and slang used for business in English

Do you Rock when you Rock a fashionable outfit?

Railroad: to force, or at least to press, a project or process through to rapid completion, often without proper concern for people and places that might be adversely affected by it. The term is thought to originate from the days in the 19th century when railroads (railways) were being built at speed in many countries.

Raincheck: a postponement due to unforeseen circumstances. This word – sometimes shown as two words – comes from the USA and was used when a baseball game had to be called off due to bad weather… Ticket holders were given a “rain check” so that they could come to another game entry free. It was first used in around 1880, and became an official part of baseball jargon about 10 years after that.

Raining cats and dogs: very heavy rain. There are several theories about the origin of this term but the one which recurs most frequently is that hundreds of years ago, domestic pets like dogs and cats used to sleep and hide in spaces right under the thatched roofs of houses. When it rained, these dogs and cats were said to be washed out of the (obviously not water-proof!) roof space, or at least would depart at high speed to find better shelter.

Rank and file: the less senior members of a group, organisation, company, etc. This comes from military terminology traced way back as far as 1590 in Britain, when soldiers (excluding officers) would march out in “ranks” and “files” which described the columns and lines of their formation.

Reach out: a 21st century term that follows a trend of softening language used for business and official purposes! To “reach out” to someone in the past meant to ask for support or help in a somewhat pleading way, but today it’s used instead of “contact,” “get in touch with,” “writing to,” etc.

Rip off: as a compound noun, it means a dishonest deal or action, and as a phrasal verb it means the act of doing a dishonest deal or action, e.g. “to rip someone off.” It seems the term “rip” was first used as far back as the 12th century in Britain, and became popular again in the early 20th century. However the term “rip off” is from “black” slang from the USA in the 1960s.

Rise and shine: a pleasant euphemism for getting up out of bed and being happy to do so! It’s said to originate from a line in an early 17th century Christian Bible, and also is said to have been used as a military order telling soldiers to get up and shine with good humor and energy. (And possibly shine their boots before breakfast, too…)

Rock, to: this overworked word has had many meanings over the last century or so, and those are over and above the word’s literal meanings as a noun (a large stone) or a verb (to sway back and forth.) It’s transformation into a brand new type of music in the 1950s/60s – “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” now shortened to “rock” – started a number of new, parallel trends. Most common current uses are “to rock,” e.g. something that “rocks” is something that’s very trendy and fashionable … and also “to rock” as in what someone fashionable is wearing, e.g. she “rocked” a denim jacket to complete her outfit. There is also the term to rock the boat as in what happens if you make a boat sway back and forth in the water! In the business sense this means to disrupt or otherwise cause a problem for a project or process which is otherwise proceeding well, e.g. “the changes were being implemented easily so we did not want any last minute additions to rock the boat.”

Role play: from the world of theatre where actors play roles. The term is especially common in the training industry where trainees are asked to act in the role of someone other than themselves, e.g. an employee pretending to be a customer in customer service training. Used widely in English speaking business and mental health cultures since the second half of the 20th century.

Run-of-the-mill: ordinary, common, not of great interest. Originally used to describe the first run of items produced in a mill, before anything has been sorted into good and inferior categories. Has been used as a metaphor for ordinary, unspectacular goods, processes, etc. in English language areas since the early 20th century.

Run rings around: to be superior, or to outclass. If you “run rings around” a colleague it means you are far better at the job than they are. Sadly, the term has rather unfortunate origins, in the now banned British blood sport of hare coursing. When being chased by the whippets and greyhounds, hares were known to run in circles around the dogs to confuse them and so make an escape. Used as a metaphor, this was said to be particularly popular in Australia and New Zealand from the late 19th century onwards.

Excerpted from Suzan St Maur’s upcoming book, “English Business Jargon & Slang,” to be published by Business Expert Press in 2018.

What are your favourite business jargon and slang terms?

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