N O – or rather, yes! English business jargon starting with N and O

Are you the sort of person who would take a “no brainer” “on a go forward basis?” Or would you “nuke” the idea and say “not on my watch?” More business and general English jargon, this time from N to O.

More English business jargon demystified on HTWB - this time from N to O

It’s “not rocket science” to be “on the ball” if you wear an “old school tie…”

English business jargon starting with N to O

Never mind: means “don’t worry, it doesn’t matter” or if said angrily, can mean something like “forget it, you’re probably too stupid to understand!” This term and its various similar ones have their roots in British English, going back as far as the very early 17th century.

Night owl: used to describe someone who is livelier and more awake in the late part of the day and through night. As owls are nocturnal creatures, hunting and mating at night, you can see how the metaphor came to be. It seems that back in the 16th century in England the word “nightowl” meant “owl,” which seemed a bit obvious because even back then people knew that owls are nocturnal! The first known use of the word in literature referring to a nocturnal person was in William Shakespeare’s poem, “The Rape of Lucrece” published in the very late 16th century.

No-brainer: Although this term has only been used commonly since the turn of the 21st century, its origins go back to the USA and Canada in t he mid-20th century. It means a notion, calculation or other piece of information that requires no “brain power” to understand and is obvious to all.

No way: means “not all,” or “definitely not.” It’s a shortened form of a phrase like “there is no way in which I can accept /permit this.” It’s interesting that although this term only became popular in the mid-20th century in most English language cultures, another version of it – “noway” – with roughly the same meaning, originates in 13th century Middle English.

Not rocket science: something that is “not rocket science” is not difficult to understand or perform. The history of rocket science itself is not something to go into here, but needless to say by around the middle of the 20th century it was generally known that it was (and still is) very complex and difficult. The term most likely originates from its use as a slightly sarcastic metaphor in the USA from about 1950 onwards.

Nuke: short for “nuclear” as in “nuclear weapons, but now commonly used as a verb to describe some electronic activities – e.g. you “nuke” your coffee in the microwave oven when it has gone cold and you want to reheat it. Of course it still can be used as a slang verb or noun in relation to nuclear warfare, too.

Off the beaten path / track: refers to something or somewhere that is not located on a busy thoroughfare, whether literally or metaphorically. Assuming that a”beaten path or track” is a popular and well-known location, you can see how the term was developed. By whom, is unclear, although many experts believe it can be attributed to the US writer Henry David Thoreau in his book “Walden,” in the mid-19th century.

Off your rocker: this means to be, or to behave as if you are, mentally unstable. The term is generally used to show that you feel the person so described is crazy to suggest/believe/want whatever they are suggesting, e.g. “if you think we can achieve those sales figures by the end of next month you must be off your rocker.” The term possibly refers to the “rocker” of a rocking chair, or to a type of electrical switch called a “rocker.” Another theory is that “rocker” (and “trolley” as in the sister term of “off your trolley“) go back to the days of trolley cars / street cars / trams which, once “off their trolley/rocker,” could no longer work. The first known appearance of the expression was in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1890.

Old boys’ network: of British origin in the 19th century and possibly before, this term refers to the unofficial network that exists among people – more usually men, esen today – who attended the same very expensive British private schools (perversely, known as public Schools) and who give employment and other preference and priority to people from the same schools in business, politics, the Law, etc. In English public school terminology if you have been to, say, Eton or Millfield schools, once you leave are an Eton/Millfield “old boy.” The syndrome does exist in other countries which have a system of expensive private schools, too.

Old school tie: see “old boys’ network” above. This is a more whimsical way of describing the unseen bond among “old boys” of various British public schools, referring to the “old boys'” school tie which many people will wear to business and social occasions to act as a discreet way of showing others to which school you went, and so establish a link. “Old school tie” reunions, dinners, social events, political events, professional occasions etc., also use the term in a metaphorical sense.

On a go forward basis: this is one of those business phrases that sound impressive but actually mean very little, rather like that old 20th century classic, “ongoing situation at this moment in time” which actually just meant “now!” No-one is sure where this phrase originates; theories range from Dilbert, the American comic strip cartoon, to jargon from the British Civil Service in the 1930s. In any case, the term is much less jargon-based if you just say “from now on.”

On a sticky wicket: an expression of British origin and popular in most countries where the game of cricket is played. To be “on a sticky wicket” means to be in a rather tricky and potentially negative situation. In cricket the “wicket” is the place where the main action takes place on the pitch and if it’s “sticky” due to rain or other weather issue, that makes it very difficult to play on. The term has been around for many years, going back well before the 19th century.

On cloud nine: if someone is “on cloud nine” they are very happy. Theories about the origin of this phrase vary widely, but the most popular one goes back to the US Weather Bureau back in the mid-1950s, when they defined the large, attractive, pillow-like cumulonimbus cloud as a type called “Cloud Nine.” However other experts argue that the term comes from Buddhism, American football, or music.

On edge: to be nervous, tense and/or stressed. This is said to come from the late 19th century in the USA when people talked about their nerves being placed on a sharp edge, e.g. that of a knife.

On my watch: this comes from the world of shipping and naval activities, where people work a rota of “watches” during which time one person is given total responsibility for the ship. When someone talks about “not on my watch” it means “not while I am in charge of things,” whether that’s on a ship, or in an business or other organization. Many people believe that the expression comes from the US and other English language naval jargon, but there is evidence that it goes back much earlier.

On (someone’s) mind: if you are “on my mind” it means that I am thinking about you. Similarly if I am thinking about plans for my next budget I could say that the budget is “on my mind.” The actual origin of the term is vague, but certainly it was popularised by a number of musicians in songs during the 20th and early 21st centuries in the USA.

On tenterhooks: the word tenter originates from the Latin tendere, which means to stretch, and since the 14th century in northern England was used to describe a large wooden frame used to weave woollen fabric. Originally to be “on tenters” was the term used to describe being anxiously waiting for something to happen; later, in the 18th century, the term transferred to “tenterhooks” – the hooks from which the woollen cloth was hung – as a more accurate description of the pain involved in waiting for something!

On the ball: to be alert and ready for action. Many people understandably believe this term comes from various sports where if you want to play well you have to keep “your eye on the ball,” but there are some who have other theories. One of especial interest is connected with the time-ball established at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London (England) in the 19th century; another is that the term meant that runners should remain “on the balls of their feet.”

On the house: if someone offers you something “on the house” it means there is nothing to pay. It comes from instances where the management of a business – usually a bar or restaurant – offers you a drink or meal “on the house,” meaning that it’s free. The term is thought to originate in the 19th century in the USA.

Once in a blue moon: something that happens “once in a blue moon” happens very rarely. The term is used to level up the fact that new moons are not quite in time with the Georgian calendar, and in some years there are 13 moons rather than 12. This 13th moon is called a “blue moon,” and this happens every few years. The word “blue” here does not refer to the colour but to the obsolete word belewe, which meant “to betray.” The origins go back to the early 16th century in Britain.

One fell swoop: we have William Shakespeare to thank for this expression, meaning in one quick (and often destructive) act like the swoop of a bird of prey. It was used in the early 17th century play, Macbeth.

One sandwich short of a picnic: a sarcastic metaphor for someone whom you believe to be not very bright, or even a little mentally challenged. There are any variations of this term with the root of “short of,” which is said to have come from Australia and New Zealand in the 19th century. Other popular ones are “one brick short of a load,” “one card short of a deck,” “one chicken nugget short of a Happy Meal,” (referring to McDonald’s food), “one beer short of a six-pack,” plus similar types like “not the sharpest tool in the box,” “not the sharpest knife in the drawer,” “not the brightest spark in the bonfire,” etc.

One upmanship: a common expression in business, originating from the  USA in the 20th century, meaning the way companies work hard to keep one step ahead of their competitors at all times. It leads to healthy competition between businesses but when applied to individuals, can lead to rather childish showing-off between people.

Out gallivanting: this is from England in the early 19th century and is thought to be a variant of the word “gallant,” and also of “gadding about.” It means to be out and about socializing and having fun, perhaps in a slightly irresponsible way.

Over my dead body: you would say this if someone wants to do something to which you are very opposed. In other words “you could only do that if I were dead.” The origins of the term are unclear but there have been a novel plus several productions of plays and movies using that as a name, dating back to about 1940 in the USA. This could have secured the term’s popularity in general use.

Watch out for more “English Business Jargon” … being published as a series here on HTWB and as a book in 2018 by Business Expert Press, USA.

In the meantime if you think of any English business jargon that should be explored and explained, please share it here in the comments!