Another 20 business terms for non-native English speakers – PART 4

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

(To read the other articles in the series, scroll down to the bottom of this article for the direct links.)

Another 20 business terms for non-native English speakers - PART 4

If you’re not a native English speaker but want to work and write better in English, this is the series for you.

Helping you write better for business in English with these 20 terms:

1. Asset stripping: when company A buys company B, then sells off as many parts of company B as it can, at a profit. Once that is done company A is likely to sell what is left of company B for very little and with no thought to its brand values, employees or customers.

2. Bandwagon effect: years ago, a bandwagon was a trailer on which a circus band performed. People who jumped on it were thought to want to be part of the show, but of course most were not good enough. In modern business, when a company tries to follow or copy a current fashion or trend – probably without being able to do it well – we call that the “bandwagon effect.”

3. Batting on a sticky wicket: a term from the originally British game of cricket. In that game it refers to damp and muddy circumstances which make the game very difficult to play. In business, it means the same: a difficult situation.

4. Close of play: another term borrowed from the British game of cricket, when “close of play” is used to describe when a day’s play is finished. In business it means the same thing: close of the business day.

Business terms for non-native English speakers part 4

Covering all bases

5. Covering all bases: now we move to the game of baseball in the first half of the 20th century, although some people think it comes from American military terms. Whichever, today it means to make sure you have made all necessary preparations and have thought of everything you need for a project, task or other activity.

6. Elephant in the room: this comes from the English way of being shy about discussing problems that exist, but aren’t nice to talk about! The idea is that if there is an elephant in the room everyone knows that it’s there, but because it is so big and important no-one dares to talk about it. The business interpretation is, for example, a meeting when everyone knows that a company is in trouble, but no-one dares to mention that and keeps talking as if everything is OK.

7. Fire-fighting: a very simple metaphor in business, because fire fighters are usually so busy putting out fires they haven’t got time to attend to other things. In business, fire-fighting usually means that a company is so busy solving problems, it hasn’t got enough time to run the business as it should.

8. Gagging clause: to gag someone is to put something over their mouth so they can’t speak. In business, a gagging clause in a business, employment or other contract means that the person or company who signs it is not allowed to talk about whatever is in that contract to anyone else.

Business terms for non-native English speakers part 4

Golden handshake

9. Golden handshake: a polite way of describing a business bribe, although in most countries this form of bribe is legal. Usually the term is used to describe a sum of money given to someone who retires early … especially if his/her company wants them to go. Sometimes it can help persuade someone to join the company: in that case it also can be called a “golden hello.”

10. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: lovely old-fashioned American expression that means you should not try to change a process or system if it is still working well: in other words, if it still is working well, don’t try to interfere with it because that may make it go wrong.

11. In the loop: some people think this is about the 2009 movie, but its meaning is simple. If you think of a group of business people working together, you’re working in a loop – in other words, a rather wobbly circle! To keep someone in the loop means to keep them connected into your business group by keeping them informed.

12. KPI: one of these terms that consist of initials. These refer to Key Performance Indicator – a way of measuring a business’s success, failures, and general perfomance.

Business terms for non-native English speakers part 4

Learning curve

13. Learning curve: comes from the curve you see on graphs, especially those that start at the bottom and work upwards. This term is used in business and other ways to describe someone, or a company, that is getting better (or needs to get better!) at what it does … e.g., “I’m interested in book-keeping but because I have only just started learning its techniques I am still at the bottom of the learning curve.”

14. Licence to print money: with a licence meaning a permit given, usually for free – and the idea of printing money yourself … this term is easy to understand. It’s about an individual or company who discovers a highly profitable way to make money and uses that to extremes. Such an individual or company would be profiting from “a licence to print money” …

15. Mission statement: with the word “mission” meaning a goal, a mission statement in business is a written goal for the company: what it stands for and what it aims to achieve.

16. Movers and shakers: this term comes from a poem by Arthur O’Shaughnessy in his 1874 poem Ode. Today it means people who get out there and make things happen, rather than people who sit and wait for others to do it.

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One-trick pony

17. One trick pony:this term probably comes from the circus, where in a cheap type a pony might only be able to one special thing in its act. In business, it means an individual or company that has only ever been successful for one product or service, and so far has not produced anything new to add to its original success.

18. Ponzi scheme: this is a fraudulent business scheme. It was first devised by American Charles Ponzi way back in 1919 in Boston, USA. What it means is start with a few investors, then attract new investors whose money you pay back to the earlier investors, and you keep going this way. It works OK for a while, but once you run out of new investors, you’re in trouble. This term is sometimes used when people are talking about Multi Level Marketing (MLM) schemes, which is usually unfair.

19. Pushing the envelope: in this case, a postal envelope wasn’t what the original people had in mind – it was a mathematical envelope. Anyway, what it means now is to take or push a project, idea, invention, concept etc. beyond what most people in business think is enough.

20. State of the art: we’re told that this term goes back to 1910 when it was used to describe the latest technology for gas turbines. Today, it’s still used to describe equipment and systems that use the most up-to-date technology and are the most modern in their businesses.

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 2, click here

To read Part 3, 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