More Common Business English Expressions


In this lesson, we’re going to explain the essential meanings behind eight more commonly-used business English expressions. As with last week’s lesson, this is just a small sample of the unique vocabulary of the English-speaking business world. 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.


Between a rock and a hard place

This expression describes a situation where you must choose between two options, neither of which is favorable. Say, for example, a quality assurance team discovers a major bug in the code of a piece of software the day before its release. If you are in charge of the release schedule, you might have to decide between delaying the release to fix the bug or releasing the product on time and trying to patch the bug later.


By the book

“By the book” means to adhere to all company policies and laws, even when doing so might be difficult and/or inefficient. If a “by the book” approach proves impractical, you might try the next expression.


Cut through the red tape

“Red tape” refers to rules and regulations that seem needlessly elaborate or restrictive. To “cut through the red tape” is to find ways to circumvent and/or expedite the process of dealing with corporate bureaucracy.


Fall through the cracks

When an issue that should have been addressed is inadvertently neglected, it is said to have “fallen through the cracks.”


Hands are tied

When your “hands are tied,” it means that a situation is beyond your control. Often this is a situation in which you would like to do something about a problem but cannot because of a decision made above your level of authority.


In the black/In the red

“In the black” means that a company is making a profit or at least breaking even. “In the red” refers to a company that is operating at a loss. This pair of expressions reflects the tradition of using black ink to denote profits and red ink to denote losses on balance sheets.


In the loop/Out of the loop

When someone doesn’t have access to information that others possess, he or she is said to be “out of the loop.” A person who might be affected by a developing situation will often ask to be kept “in the loop” so that he or she is not placed in an awkward situation by a lack of information.


Put on the back burner

“Put on the back burner” means to give something lower priority than the other tasks that you are currently dealing with.  The expression comes from a time when stoves typically had smaller, less powerful burners in the back and larger, more powerful burners in the front.


Small talk

“Small talk” is polite, inoffensive office conversation. While small talk can be a good way to build a sense of community with your coworkers, you should stick to “safe” topics, such as the weather or last night’s football score, and avoid controvers