English business jargon and slang terms QUIZ – the answers!

At last, the long-awaited answers to Tuesday’s business jargon and slang quiz
Answers to business quiz


a) Business Hiring Among Graduates
b) Big Hairy Audacious Goals
c) British Hiring And Grading

B) – BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals): no doubt pronounced, as an acronym, as “bee-hags!” This is a term used to describe a goal or objective in business that is very ambitious and will make the business concerned really stretch itself, but is a goal that will inspire everyone to work hard to achieve it.

2.Bust someone’s chops

a) Hit someone across the face
b) Convert a meat dish into a vegetarian version
c) Pester or nag someone

C) Bust someone’s chops:this is almost street slang, but still may well be heard in business circles! Contrary to what you might think it does not mean to hit someone in the face. It means to pester and nag at someone, presumably to get them to do something, as in “OK, I’m doing it now. Don’t bust my chops.” Origins are sketchy but “bust” has become a well-known slang alternative to “break,” and “chops,” which means the lower part of your face, could go back into history. This is from the fashion for men, starting in the 19th century and still seen today, to grow large sideburns that are shaped like a mutton or lamb chop (cut of meat.)

3.Cock a snook

a) To make a rude sign to someone with your thumb on your nose, waggling your fingers
b) A variant of the Scottish soup, “Cock-a-leekie”
c) For a farmer to find out their rooster is impotent/sterile

A) Cock a snook: mainly British expression which the Americans call “the five-fingered salute.” You place one hand vertically at a 45° angle to your face with the tip of your thumb resting on the tip of your nose with your fingers erect and waggling. The meaning is that you don’t like and/or don’t take seriously whatever or whoever is being discussed at the time. Origins are very vague: a “snook” is a promontory of land that sticks out which could resemble your hand when it’s in place, and “cock” could refer to the way your hand resembles a cock’s (rooster’s) comb.

4.Cut to the chase

a) A steeplechasing term mean to accelerate quickly
b) An early Hollywood film term meaning to get quickly to the main action
c) To remove all but strictly essential costs

B) Cut to the chase: this means to get on with something without wallowing in anything likely to delay the key points. Allegedly it comes from the very early days (early 20th century) of Hollywood silent films when the “chase” – usually where the good guys chased the bad guys – was the culmination of all excitement and drama, hence where the real action took place rather than the build-up to it and/or other supporting sequences.


a) To explain
b) To get someone or something out of a tight spot
c) To edit by removing potentially offensive words

A) Explicate: in today’s simplified modern terms, this just means “to explain.” However unlike pretentious new words which have sprung up in recent years which essential are fancier versions of their originals (e.g. “conversate” rather than “converse” or even “talk”) … dear old “explicate” has origins going back quite a long way. It’s said that the term originates from the 1530s, from Latin explicatus, past participle of explicare “unfold, unravel, explain.”

6.Gig economy

a) A computer/IT term, connected with gigabytes
b) Referring to the fashion of outsourcing to contractors rather than salaried employees
c) A brisk way of doing business from the early Italian dance, guigua.

B) Gig economy: using the word “gig” as musicians do today – a self-contained performance for which they get paid a finite sum of money – this term refers to the way companies get work done by hiring freelancers or contractors on a self-employed basis, rather than as employees. Depending on your point of view this can either be seen as a practical way of doing business as there are far fewer tax, benefits and other involvements for the company and a sense of “being your own boss” and freedom for the individual … or as a risky way that does not guarantee staff loyalty, and offers no security to the individual. “Gig” as a word that seems to have a colorful history. It’s variously said to come from the old French word giguer, from an early Italian dance form, or possibly from late 18th century English when the word “gig” meant a flighty girl and things that whirled – which could be the link with today’s meaning of impermanence! The word was adopted by jazz musicians probably from the early 20th century in the USA, and is still widely used by jazz and other musicians today.

7.Lipstick index

a) A sliding scale that moves easily up and down, like a lipstick does in its case
b) Current colour trends in lipstick, nail colour and eye shadow
c) A correlation between women’s spending habits on cosmetics and the health of the economy generally

C) 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.


a) Management By Wandering Around
b) Master of Business With Accountancy
c) Major Bureaucracy With Apathy

A) MBWA: initials once again and this time really sarcastic; they stand for Management By Wandering Around, suggesting that managers simply walk around rather than do their jobs properly.

9.Marzipan layer

a) Culinary term used in the patisserie industry
b) Aspiration for almond farmers in California
c) A layer of management just below boardroom level

C) 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.

10.Mezzanine financing

a) An architectural term meaning to acquire additional funds to provide for a mezzanine floor
b) An extra layer of finance beyond the original investment, to boost the business’s chances of success
c) A level of financing available to help companies out of short-term trouble: a type of “pay-day” loan

B) Mezzanine financing: the word “mezzanine” originally means an extra floor that’s built halfway up a very tall space, or in industry, halfway up a warehouse or other big building. The word comes from the French and Italian usages in the 18th century. Often, a mezzanine floor looks like a very large balcony. Mezzanine finance is an extra layer of money that is used in addition to the original investment, to help a business to grow more quickly, to pay for a new project, etc.

11.Pay dirt

a) Pay that is at or below the official minimum wage
b) A polite euphemism for “laundered” money
c) A potentially valuable windfall or new discovery

C) Pay dirt: an expression from the mid 19th century in the USA. Originally used by gold miners, if you “hit pay dirt” it meant that you had found some gold while sifting through soil, sand, etc. By the latter part of the 19th century the term’s use had spread and was used to refer to any potentially valuable business windfall, discovery, development etc.


a) A group of people who are happy to work for companies in financial trouble
b) People who have little or no job security to look forward to
c) Blue collar workers who have been promoted into white collar jobs

B) Precariat: a term borrowed from economics and sociology, referring to people whose lives are precarious because they have little or no security for their future jobs, which obviously affects their welfare. A predominantly British term, its use – unfortunately – is growing as more and more working people fall into this relatively new “social class.”

13.Pushing the envelope

a) To go beyond the expected in a project and see if you can do more to perfect it
b) A recent initiative to maintain the use of conventional postal services
c) A recent initiative to encourage the recycling of paper envelopes

A) 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.

14.Salami tactics

a) A term used in the hospitality industry to describe the use of highly salted amuses bouches snacks served with drinks, to encourage customers to drink more
b) A business term describing plans and projects that can be shelved for some months to ripen and mature, as is the case with salami
c) Usually unpleasant business or political tactics that slice away at their opposition, in the way that salami is sliced before it can be eaten

C) 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.

15.Shake a leg

a) A very politically incorrect medical slang term referring to symptoms of certain neurological conditions
b) A slang term meaning that an individual, business or other organization needs to hurry up
c) A corruption of the name Sheikh Al-Eag, a former ruler of Kuwait

B) Shake a leg: this means to hurry up. It seems this term was first clearly defined in New York magazine (USA) in the early 20th century, and is thought to have come from references in both the UK and the USA to dancing, back in the 19th century. We must assume that when dancing, if you “shake a leg” you need to do it quickly!

16.Squaring the circle

a) A Masonic term meaning to bring matters to a successful conclusion
b) A term used in country / square dancing, when performers change their routine from a circular to square shape
c) A term borrowed from mathematics wherein “squaring the circle” is almost impossible, and so is used to describe extremely difficult business challenges

C) 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.

17.Straw poll (or straw vote)

a) A term farmers use to pre-assess the quality of straw they’re likely to have given the climate conditions prior to harvest
b) An equestrian industry term that’s used to ascertain the popularity of straw as a source of bedding for stabled horses, as opposed to wood shavings, rubber bedding, etc.
c) a casual and unofficial vote to see how members of a group, company or other organisation feel about a particular issue

C) Straw poll (or straw vote): a casual and unofficial vote to see how members of a group, company, or other organization feel about a particular issue. There are several notions as to the origins of this term, but the one that seems mostly commonly accepted is the way that, in times gone by in the UK and the USA, to establish the winner of a poll like this several strands of straw were cut up at random. An appropriate number of strands were held up in the hand of the adjudicator; contenders chose a straw from his/her hand; and the winner was whoever pulled the longest straw. Hence another, related term … when you get the short straw, it can mean you have lost in an unofficial contest.

18.Take something with a grain/pinch of salt

a) To accept something for what it appears to be, but with some (often humorous) reservations
b) A homeopathic term meaning to add salt to certain medications in order to improve their efficacy
c) A term used by the hospitality industry to remind bar staff how to make proper Margarita cocktails

A) Take something with a grain/pinch of salt: to accept something for what it appears to be, but with some reservations as to its accuracy! This term comes from the days when much food was rather tasteless and in many cases might have been poisoned. The idea was that if you were to take such food with a “grain of salt,” or a “pinch of salt,” it made it easier to swallow. The first known reference to this goes back nearly two thousand years when Pliny wrote about it (“grain of salt”) in Naturalis Historia, back in 77 A.D. The term (also as “grain of salt”) was popular in England from the 16th century in examples like John Trapp’s Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, in 1647, and F. R. Cowell (“pinch of salt”) in Cicero & the Roman Republic, in 1948. The amount of salt concerned with a “pinch” is obvious, and a “grain” is roughly .065 of a modern day gram.

19.Talk to the hand

a) A term used by people with hearing difficulties, asking others to use sign language if possible
b) A term referring to people recording conversations with a hand-held device, so speakers’ contributions are recorded clearly
c) A rude term meaning that the listener doesn’t care enough to hear what you have to say, so suggests you talk to their hand

C) Talk to the hand: a term of vague origins but thought to come from the west coast of the USA in the very late 20th century, when someone who really does not want to hear what you have to say raises the palm of one hand at you and says, “talk to the hand.” Essentially it’s a fairly brutal way of dismissing you, and is considered very rude.


a) Someone who does not drink alcohol
b) A golfing term referring to a player who depends too much on tee shots and not enough on the mid-to-short game
c) A clothing manufacturer who specializes in bespoke T-shirts

A) Teetotaller: many of us – especially those of us “‘spellingly’ challenged” – might ascribe this word to people who only drink tea! But that difference in spelling is a warning here. In fact, the “tee” here is much more likely to be a full spelling out of the letter T, and have come from “temperance” activists in the 19th century in Britain and North America, and be entirely connected with the word “temperance” which, of course, means “abstinence from alcoholic drink.” (Never mind just tea..)

21.To steal a march on

a) To get your products’ advertising up and running in plenty of time for the Easter rush
b) For a political organization to arrange and conduct a protest march before its rivals have time to arrange an opposing one
c) To obtain an advantage over a business competitor or rival

C) To steal a march on: this means to get an advantage over a competitor or rival. It originates from military use in England back in the early 18th century, when it meant to move (we presume, by marching!) troops around secretly, usually at night, to give that army an advantage over its enemy.


a) A way of saying something that implies you don’t necessarily believe it
b) A medical term referring to a potentially malignant lesion in the mouth
c) A rather rude expression depicting a sexual innuendo

A) Tongue-in-cheek: if something is said “tongue in cheek” it means that the speaker has some doubts about its truth or gravity, and that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Its original meaning England was that something said “tongue in cheek” was to be despised. However be the mid 19th century it was being used as it still is today. The literal connection is a bit unclear, but many experts feel it stems from “biting your tongue” to stop yourself either saying more, or in this case perhaps, to stop yourself from bursting out laughing.

23.Walk the line

a) A US Police term referring to one of the tests they carry out to determine whether a driver is drunk or not
b) A term from prisoners’ exercise yards in some countries past and present, where they were obliged to exercise by walking along a defined line
c) A term meaning to behave properly, as enshrined by the late Johnny Cash in a song by the same name

B) Walk the line: this means to behave properly and according to rules or requirements as set out by their issuers. Many people in the USA assume that “walk the line” comes from a very popular song performed by Johnny Cash by the same name. However it is said to come from prisoners’ exercise yards in a number of English language countries from the 18th century onwards to the early 20th century, when prisoners taking exercise would have to walk along a circular painted line for the given amount of time – and were punished should they stray from it.

24.Widows and orphans

a) A term used commonly in the insurance industry
b) A term used commonly in the funerals industry
c) A text editing term

C) 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.

25.Young Turk

a) A young employee who has lively ideas and is very keen
b) A young employee from eastern Europe and beyond
c) A term used to describe a talented young Turkish chef destined for great things in the hospitality industry

A) Young Turk: this term may now be considered politically incorrect and may well be so, but it is still used by older people in business to describe a young employee or other contributor who has lively new ideas and is eager to share and implement them. The term was first seen in the USA in the 1920s when referring to young people who revolutionized political thinking at that time. However the term goes back to earlier times. Around the turn of the 18th – 19th century, the then Sultan of the Ottoman Empire introduced sweeping modernization of their army as induced and supported by young Turks, who went on to implement those modernizations at the expense of the old-school older generation.

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