20 Business Terms Explained for Non-Native English Speakers, PART 2

Welcome to Part 2 of this series on business terms explained for non-native English speakers, and here is another collection of 20 common words and phrases you’re likely to see in business and business studies.

(You will find direct links to the other articles in the series by scrolling down to the bottom of this article.)

HTWB E2L June 1-16 Here’s your 2nd set of 20 business terms to help you write better in English

Benchmark: comes from the engineering industry. It means a definite, reliable point from which to measure the growth or progress of a project or activity.

Brainstorm: some people find this a bit offensive because it suggests mental illness. However it is used a lot – as a noun and a verb – and usually means when people get together to come up with ideas for a project, solutions to problems, etc.

Crowdsourcing: a recent word dating from about 2006. Means to obtain funding and other support from a large group of people (a “crowd”), usually on the internet.

Cutting edge: this is the sharper side of a knife blade, and so – as a metaphor – is used to describe anything that is leading others in technology, design, etc.

Firing on all cylinders: another metaphor, this time taken from automobiles. If a car motor is “firing on all cylinders” it is working well and powerfully; this describes a person or company that is doing the same.

Hands-on: this usually describes a person – usually a senior person – who wants to do some of the actual, practical work in a business as well as manage it. You may also hear “hands off,” which is the opposite.

Hit the ground running: imagine that you have picked up a very lively cat, which starts moving its legs as if running while still a couple centimetres above the floor. When you put it down, it runs away immediately. This metaphor is used to describe either a business or more usually a person who can begin work on something very quickly, without having to go through much training or induction.

Horses for courses: a metaphor from horse racing and the equestrian world this time. It means to pick a suitable solution for a particular problem or purpose, rather than risk failure by applying the wrong solution. The metaphor is that you wouldn’t use a thin, delicate Arab horse to pull a cart, and you wouldn’t use a heavy draft horse for dressage or racing.

Malware: a simple term from “mal” (bad) and “ware” (software.) This is the software that can find its way into computer systems and cause a lot of damage.

Methodology: basically this is a bigger and more complex form of method – the way a process or project is developed, organised, measured, etc.

Mindset: this is a recent word made from “mind” and “set” (a way of being). In simple terms it just means a way of thinking.

Pan out: this is supposed to come from the 1800s when gold miners in North America would look for gold nuggets in their “pan” of soil, etc., which they would scoop up from rivers … hoping to make a lot of money! Today it means how something works out over time, in practice – e.g., “this project will pan out over the next 5 years.”

Parameter: a variable (a fact or element of business that can change) that businesses need to help calculate how a process or project will work out. Became a very popular term in the 1990s in English language business; often people used this word when they really meant perimeter, which (but used as a metaphor) is the outer limit or edge of a piece of land. The two words often are still confused today.

Raising the game: a metaphor from gambling and especially poker! In gambling it means to raise the betting, so making the game more difficult and more important. In business it’s used in the same way – to take a business, process or project to a higher level.

Ring fencing: this is a very old English term meaning to protect your property or land by putting up a strong fence all the way around it – in a “ring” (complete circle). In business today it’s usually used to describe the way a sum of money is saved safely to be used only for one purpose. Can also apply to other assets, support from people, etc.

Self-starter: this might be a metaphor from the early days of automobiles when the first electric starter motors were built into cars (before then, you had to start the motor by turning a crank!) However it’s easy to see how this applies to people. Someone who is a self-starter doesn’t need to be told to do things; s/he knows what to do and gets on with it.

Talking the talk, walking the walk: this is a very fancy metaphor for someone who does what they say they are going to do.

Think outside the box: this probably comes from jargon written by management consultants in the late 20th century – more on that here, if you’re interested. Since then it has become a cliché in English business. All it means is to use your imagination – to be creative and not just work with the same old, er, “parameters”/”perimeters” (see above.)

Water cooler conversation: many companies in the English language markets have a big container of cold water available for employees to drink during business hours. This cooler is normally in an area where employees can take some water in a plastic cup, then stand around and talk informally. The “water cooler conversation” is taken seriously in many companies, because this is where business gets discussed informally and people can say what they really think. That’s not always possible in formal meetings.

Win-Win: when two sides of a business deal both gain something good.

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 3, 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.