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This week we’re going to unpack the meaning behind a dozen commonly-used business English expressions. As with all subcultures, the English-speaking business world has its own peculiar vocabulary, the meaning of which might not be obvious to non-native English speakers. What follows is just a small taste of expressions used in business correspondence. If you need more help with business English, or any other aspect of the English language, contact the English Island in Atlanta. Our highly-qualified teachers offer classes that are custom-tailored to your individual needs.

 

24/7

This expression is shorthand for “twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” It conveys the idea that someone is continuously working on a problem until that problem is fixed or that a person or entity is always available.

 

Ahead of the curve/ahead of the pack

These expressions mean that you or your company is better, more advanced, or more successful at something than your competition is.

 

ASAP

“ASAP” is short for “as soon as possible.” It is an expression of urgency used to emphasize that something needs to be completed quickly.

 

Back to square one/back to the drawing board

This pair of expressions means to start over. They are usually used when something is not working and the only foreseeable solution is to discard what you already have and begin anew.

 

Ballpark figure

A “ballpark figure” is a rough idea or an estimate based on all the information that you have at this point.

 

Call it a day

“Call it a day” means to stop working. It can be used literally (“call it a day” and go home for the night) or figuratively (let’s “call it a day” and pick this up next week.)

 

Elephant in the room

The “elephant in the room” is an obvious issue or problem that no one wants to talk about. Usually, this is a difficult, controversial, or otherwise sensitive subject. If you want or need to discuss the “elephant in the room,” make sure to do carefully and tactfully.

 

Get the ball rolling

This expression means to start something. The “ball” can be virtually anything, but it is usually the first step in what will be an ongoing project.

 

Round the clock

Like “24/7,” this expression means to work non-stop to resolve an issue. It can also mean that a person or service is available at any time. “Round the clock” support means that someone will be available to answer your questions, no matter what time of day you call.

 

Take the bull by the horns

This expression means to directly confront a difficult problem or situation.

 

Think outside the box

“Thinking outside the box” involves coming up with creative and unconventional solutions to difficult problems. An “outside the box” solution involves approaches and ideas that have not been tried (and in some cases not even considered) before.

 

Touch base

“Touch base” means to make contact. It is a highly-elastic phrase whose exact meaning can vary depending on the context in which it is used. You might “touch base” with a new client to introduce yourself or “touch base” with a coworker to follow up on a particular issue that you’ve both been working on.

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