ace up your sleeve

If you have an ace up your sleeve, you have something in reserve with which you can gain an advantage.
“Our new product is an ace up our sleeve

hold all the aces

A person who holds all the aces is in a very strong position because they have more advantages than anyone else.
“Given the high unemployment rates today, employers hold all the aces.

ambulance chaser

A lawyer who finds work by persuading people injured in accidents to claim money from the person who caused the accident is called an ‘ambulance chaser’.
“Peterson and Scott are well-known ambulance chasers – that’s how they make their money!”

back to the salt mines

Saying that you have to go back to the sale mines is a humorous way of talking about returning to work, usually with some reluctance.
“We get two days off at Christmas and then it’s back to the salt mines!”

bait and switch

This term refers to a deceptive commercial practice of advertising a low-priced item to attract customers, then telling them that the product is out of stock and persuading them to buy a more expensive article.
“This store is famous for its bait and switch tactics.”

in the black

To say that a person or organisation is in the black means that they are financially sound, have a positive balance on their account and that they owe no money.
“Don’t worry. Our club is in the black.”

black market

The black market refers to the illegal buying and selling of goods or currencies.
“Be careful of what you buy on the black market – it’s not always good quality.”


A discussion among a group of people who try to determine who or what is to blame for a particular mistake, failure or wrongdoing, is called ‘blamestorming‘.
“A blamestorming session took place following the unfavourable reviews in the press.”

blank cheque

If you give someone a blank cheque, you authorise them to do what they think is best in a difficult situation
“Tom was given a blank cheque and told to negotiate the best deal possible.”

blue chip company

This term refers to a company with a solid reputation for the quality of its products and the stability of its growth and earnings.
“It’s usually safe to invest in a blue chip company.”

above board

If a situation or business is described as above board, it is open, honest and legal.
“There are not secret negotiations. Our dealings have always been above board.”

boil the ocean

To “boil the ocean” means to waste time on a task or project that is unnecessary, not worth doing or impossible to achieve.
“I expect you to do the job well but don’t try to boil the ocean!”

get down to brass tacks

When people get down to brass tacks, they start to discuss the essential aspects of a problem or situation.
“The situation was so serious that after a few polite exchanges they quickly got down to brass tacks.”

break your back

If you work extremely hard, or put a lot of effort into achieving something, you break your back to do it.
“If you want the job done well, you should accept to pay more. He’s not going to break his back for such a low price!”

bricks and mortar / bricks and clicks

An established trading company (office/shop) is referred to as a ‘brick-and-mortar’ business.
‘Click companies‘ refer to internet-based operations.
Companies which do both are called ‘bricks and clicks’.
“Click businesses are usually more flexible than brick-and-mortar operations.”

corner the market

If a company dominates an area of business, and leaves no room for competition, it is said to have cornered the market.
“By importing large quantities and selling at low prices, they have cornered the market.”

creative accounting

The term ‘creative accounting’ refers to the presentation of a company’s results in a way that, although generally legal, glosses over the problems and makes the results appear better than they are.
“It was suggested that some creative accounting might help to attract investors.”

cut and dried

If you refer to a situation, problem or solution as cut and dried, you mean that it is clear and straightforward with no likely complications.
“When the new manager arrived, he didn’t find the situation as cut and dried as he had expected.”

cutting edge

The expression ‘cutting edge’ refers to the newest, most advanced stage in the development of something.
“The company is at the cutting edge of aeronautics.”

dead wood

The term ‘dead wood’ refers to people or things which are no longer considered useful or necessary.
“The new manager wants to reduce costs by cutting out the dead wood.”

a dealbreaker

Something that is important enough to prevent agreement being reached is called a dealbreaker.
“We liked the house and the area, but the small garden was a dealbreaker for us.”

a done deal

This expression is used to refer to an agreement or decision which has been reached on a certain matter.
“We’re still considering several proposals, so it’s not a done deal yet.”

a shady deal

A suspicious, dishonest or illegal arrangement or transaction is known as a shady deal.
“The two sons were always involved in their father’s shady deals.”

a square deal

A fair and honest transaction, agreement or arrangement is called a square deal.
“We always get a square deal with that supplier.”

it’s/that’s a deal/you’ve got a deal

When you’ve reached agreement with someone you can say it’s a deal, that’s a deal or you’ve got a deal!
“What if I offered you 80$ for both of them?” “You’ve got a deal!

a deal with the devil

A risky arrangement with a person of bad reputation is called a deal with the devil.
“Jack ran up so much debt that he made a deal with the devil.”

sweeten the deal

When you sweeten the deal, you make an offer or arrangement more attractive by adding an extra benefit, usually financial.
“The company sweetened the deal with a pension plan to get him to accept the job.”

a sweetheart deal

The term sweetheart deal is used to refer to an abnormally lucrative arrangement between two parties.
“Opponents say the contract was awarded to the builder as part of a sweetheart deal, and is therefore illegal.”

do the spadework

Someone who does the spadework does the preparatory work or the preliminary research.
“Although I did all the spadework, my name was never mentioned.”

dog and pony show

A dog and pony show  is a marketing event or presentation which has plenty of style but not much content, and is essentielly designed to promote sales.
“Our investors are well-informed businessmen who don’t need a dog and pony show to impress them.”

dog eat dog

‘Dog eats dog’ refers to intense competition and rivalry in pursuit of one’s own interests, with no concern for morality.
“The business world is tough today. There’s a general dog-eat-dog attitude.”

in the doldrums

To say that a person, a business or the economy in general is in the doldrums means that the situation is gloomy and that nothing new is happening.
“Despite the recent measures, the economy is in the doldrums.”

a done deal

‘A done deal’ refers to an agreement or decision which has been reached on a certain matter.
“We’re still considering several proposals, so it’s not a done deal yet.”

done and dusted

When a project, task or activity is done and dusted, it is completely finished or ready.
“I’ve nearly finished preparing the presentation. When it’s all done and dusted I’ll be able to relax.”

donkey work

The expression ‘donkey work’ is used to describe the hard, tedious or repetitive parts of a job, or the less interesting work.
“It’s not fair. I do the donkey work and my boss gets the credit!”

doom and gloom

A general atmosphere of pessimism, and a feeling that the situation is not going to improve, is referred to as doom and gloom.
“Fortunately it’s not doom and gloom for all businesses, in spite of the economic situation.”

down the drain

To say that money, time or energy has gone down the drainmeans that it has been wasted or lost.
“His years of research went down the drain when the company went bankrupt.”

drastic times call for drastic measures

This expression means that when faced with a difficult situation, it is sometimes necessary to take actions which in normal circumstances would appear extreme.
After Johnny’s third accident, his father confiscated his car, saying: “drastic times call for drastic measures!”

dream ticket

If you refer to two people as a dream ticket, you think they would work well together and be successful.
“Clinton and Obama teaming up for the elections would be a dream ticket for many Democrats.”

(a) dry run (or dummy run)

If you organise a rehearsal, a trial exercise or a practice session of something, in realistic conditions, to see how well it will work before it is launched, you do a dry run.
“Let’s do a dry run of the ceremony to make sure everything goes smoothly.”

above and beyond the call of duty

If a person does something which is above and beyond the call of duty, they show a greater degree of courage or effort than is usually required or expected in their job.
“The fire-fighter received a medal for his action which went above and beyond the call of duty“.

eager beaver

The term eager beaver refers to a person who is hardworking and enthusiastic, sometimes considered overzealous
“The new accountant works all the time – first to arrive and last to leave. He’s a real eager beaver!”

elbow grease

If you use elbow grease, you need energy and strength to do physical work such as cleaning or polishing.
“It took a considerable amount of elbow grease to renovate the old house.”

farm something out

If something, such as work, is farmed out, it is sent out to be done by others.
“We farmed out the packaging to another company.”

(have a) finger in every pie

If someone has a finger in every pie, they are involved in a large and varied number of activities.
“For information about the activities in this town, you should talk to John Brown. He’s got a finger in every pie.”

work your fingers to the bone

A person who works their fingers to the bone is extremely hardworking.
“Tony deserves his success; he worked his fingers to the bone when he started the business.”

(have a) foot in the door

To say that someone has a foot in the door means that they have a small but successful start in something and will possibly do well in the future.
“With today’s unemployment, it is difficult to get a foot in the door in any profession.”

get a foothold

If you get a foothold somewhere, you secure a position for yourself in a business, profession or organisation.
“The contract got the firm a foothold in the local administration.”

(have a) free hand

If you have a free hand, you have permission to make your own decisions, especially in a job.
“My boss gave me a free hand in the choice of supplier.”

funny business

A business which is conducted in a deceitful, dishonest or unethical manner is called funny business.
“I’ve got suspicions about that association. I think they’re up to some funny business.”

get your hands dirty

If you get your hands dirty in your job, you become involved in all aspects of it, including work that is physical, unpleasant or less interesting.
“His willingness to get his hands dirty won the respect and approval of the whole team.”

get something off the ground

If you get something off the ground, you put it into operation after having organised it.
“After a lot of hard work, we finally got the campaign off the ground.”

get the show on the road

If you manage to put a plan or idea into action, you get the show on the road.
“OK, we’ve got all we need, so let’s get the show on the road.”

give someone a run for their money

If you give someone a run for their money, you present strong competition in circumstances where the other person expects to win easily.
“We didn’t get the contract but we gave our competitors a run for their money!”

go belly up

If a business or project goes belly up, it is unsuccessful or goes bankrupt.
“The restaurant went belly up before the end of the first year.”

go for a song

If something goes for a song, it is sold at an unexpectedly low price.
“I was able to buy the car simply because it was going for a song.”

go out of business

If a shop, firm or enterprise goes out of business, it closes down or goes bankrupt.
“If the new road bypasses the town, a lot of shops will go out of business.”

(a) going concern

A business or activity that is dynamic and successful is a going concern.
“They opened a coffee shop that is a going concern today.”

golden handcuffs

The term golden handcuffs refers to a large sum of money or a generous financial arrangement granted to an executive as an incentive to stay in their job, or to ensure long-term cooperation after their departure.

golden handshake

A golden handshake is a generous sum of money given to a person when they leave a company or retire (sometimes given to encourage early retirement).

golden opportunity

A golden opportunity is a favourable time or an excellent occasion which should not be missed.
“An internship in that company would be a golden opportunity for you – it might lead to a permanent job later.”

golden parachute

A golden parachute is a clause in an executive’s employment contract stating that the executive will receive certain large benefits if their employment is terminated.

grease someone’s palm

If you accuse someone of greasing somebody’s palm, you are accusing them of giving money to someone in order to gain an unfair advantage or to obtain something they want.
“In some countries, it is common practice to grease government officials’ palms.”

one hand washes the other (and together they wash the face)

This expression means that when people cooperate and work well together, there is a better chance of a achieving results.

upper hand

If a person or organisation gains or gets the upper hand, especially in a fight or competition, they take control over something.
“We increased our market share and gained the upper hand over our competitors.”

all hands on deck

When there is a need for all hands on deck, everyone must help, especially if there’s a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time.
“As the opening day approached, it was all hands on deck to have everything ready in time.”

have one’s hands tied

If a person has their hands tied, something such as an agreement or a rule is preventing them from doing what they would like to do.
“Mark deserves to earn more, but the manager’s hands are tied by the recent salary agreement.”

(a) hive of activity / beehive

A place where there are lots of things happening, and everyone is very busy, is called a hive of activity.
“When I went to offer help, the kitchen was already a hive of activity.”

hold the fort

When you hold the fort, you look after a place or a business in the absence of the person who is normally in charge.
“Rosie, could you hold the fort please while I go to the post office?”

(a) household name/word

When the name of something becomes very familiar because it is so often used, it is called a household name or household word.
“The product was so successful that its name became a household word in no time.”

iron(s) in the fire

If you have a few, or many, irons in the fire, you are involved in several projects at the same time.
“The travel agency is not his only venture – he’s got more than one iron in the fire.”

hit the ground running

If someone hits the ground running, they are ready and eager to start immediately on a new activity.
“He intends to hit the ground running when he starts his new job.”

jump on the bandwagon

If a person or organisation jumps on the bandwagon, they decide to do something when it is already successful or fashionable.
“When organic food became popular, certain stores were quick to jump on the bandwagon and promote it.”

keep your head above water

To keep one’s head above water means to try to survive by staying out of debt, for example a small business.
“Business has been slow, but we’ve managed to keep our head above water.”

knuckle down

If someone knuckles down to something, they start to work on it seriously.
“If you want to succeed, you’ll have to knuckle down to some serious work.”

(a) lame duck

A person or organisation in difficulty and unable to manage without help is called a lame duck.
“Some banks have become lame ducks recently.”

the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing

To say that ‘the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ means that within a group or organisation, communication is so bad that one person doesn’t know what another person is doing.

(a) licence to print money

This expression refers to an officially authorised activity which enables people to make a lot of money without much effort.
“The contract to supply computers to schools was a licence to print money!”

make hay while the sun shines

This expression is used as an encouragement to take advantage of a good situation which may not last.
“Successful athletes are advised to make hay while the sun shines“.

meet a deadline

If you meet a deadline, you finish or complete something at the time or by a date previously agreed.
“Working under pressure to meet a deadline can be motivating.”

meet a standard

If something meets a standard, it achieves a certain level of quality or performance
“The prototype was rejected because it did not meet our standards.”

mix business with pleasure

When people mix business with pleasure, they combine work and leisure or social activities.
“Seminars or training sessions that include leisure activities are a good way of mixing business and pleasure.”

money spinner

If an activity is amoney spinner, it is a very successful way of making money.
“Washing cars was quite a money spinner when I was a student.”

monkey business

An activity which is organised in a deceitful or dishonest way is called monkey business.
“The results announced seem suspicious – I think there’s some monkey business going on.”

move the goalposts

During a course of action, if someone moves the goalposts they change the rules or conditions.
“Our objectives have been set for next year. Let’s hope the boss doesn’t move the goalposts halfway through.”

movers and shakers

The term movers and shakers refers to people in power who take an active part in making things happen.
Mover and shakers are assembling in Brussels for the summit.”


When people get down to the nitty-gritty, they begin to discuss the most important points or the practical details.
“We started to discuss the project, but we didn’t get down to the nitty-gritty until his partner arrived.”

nuts and bolts

The nuts and bolts of something are the detailed facts and the practical aspects.
“We need to discuss the nuts and bolts of the proposal before going any further.”

opposite number

A person who holds the same position as oneself in another company or organisation is called one’s opposite number.
“I spoke to my opposite number in several local companies and we all agreed to join the anti-pollution campaign.”

ostrich strategy/policy

Someone who adopts an ostrich strategy or policy chooses to ignore or evade an obvious problem in the hope that it will resolve itself or disappear.
“Adopting an ostrich strategy will only make matters worse – we’ve got to find a solution.”

overplay your hand

If you overplay your hand, you are overconfident and spoil your chances of success by trying to obtain too much.
“Sam is hoping for a bonus for his good results, but he may be overplaying his hand if he asks for a promotion.”

pass the buck

If you say that someone is passing the buck, you are accusing them of not taking responsibility for a problem and letting others deal with it instead.
“Whenever a customer comes to complain, she always finds a way of looking busy – a great way of passing the buck!”

pass muster

If someone or something passes muster, they are considered to be satisfactory or acceptable.
“The interview went well. I hope I’ll pass muster.”

rat race

Continuous stressful competition in modern society for success, power or money, especially in business, is called the rat race.
“Emily is sick and tired of the rat race. She’s going to leave her job in a big company and work freelance.”

red tape

The term red tape refers to official rules and bureaucratic paperwork that prevent things from being done quickly.
“If there wasn’t so much red tape, the company would be up and running already.”

(do a) roaring trade

If you do a roaring trade, your business is very successful.
“Cosmetic surgeons are doing a roaring trade these days.”

roll up your sleeves

When you roll up your sleeves, you get ready for hard work.
“The house was in a mess after the party so we had to roll up our sleeves and start cleaning.”

learn the ropes

If you learn the ropes, you learn how to do a particular job correctly.
“He’s a smart kid. It won’t take him long to learn the ropes.”

seal of approval

If a project or contract receives a seal of approval, it receives formal support or approval from higher authorities.
“We can’t conclude the deal without the director’s seal of approval.”

seal the deal

When you seal the deal you reach a final agreement and make it official.
“The two parties are meeting tomorrow to seal the deal.”

second a motion

During a meeting, if you second a motion, you formally agree with a proposal.
“She seconded the motion to introduce flexible working hours.”

sell ice to Eskimos

This expression is used to describe a person who has the ability to persuade someone to accept something totally unnecessary or useless.
“It’s not surprising Harry was named ‘salesman of the year’. He could sell ice to Eskimos!”

send up a trial balloon

If you test something such as an idea, a project or a product, to see how people respond to it, you send up a trial balloon.
“The idea seemed excellent but when they sent up a trial balloon the reaction was very negative.”

separate the sheep from the goats

If you separate the sheep from the goats, you examine a group of people and decide which are suitable and which are not.
“Examining job applications is the first stage in separating the sheep from the goats.”

set the stage for something

If you set the stage for an event or a development, you create conditions that allow it to happen.
“The agreement set the stage for their future working relationship.”

shape up or ship out

If you tell someone to shape up or ship out, you are warning them that if they do not improve, they will have to leave their job.
“When Tom started neglecting the customers, he was told to shape up or ship out.”

shotgun approach

If you use a shotgun approach, you target a large area or population in a non-selective, haphazard and inefficient manner.
“Identifying a specific segment of the market as our target will be more effective than a shotgun approach.”

sign on dotted line

When you sign on the dotted line, you formally give your consent to something by signing an official document.
“I consulted a lawyer before signing on the dotted line.”

signed, sealed, and delivered

When an agreement, contract or treaty is signed, sealed and delivered, all the legal documents are in order.
“It is hoped that the agreement will be signed, sealed and delivered before the end of the week.”

skeleton staff / crew

If a business or organisation works with a skeleton staff, it is run with the smallest number of people necessary.
“The office is closed the week after Christmas but there will be a skeleton staff to handle essential operations.”

sleeping/silent partner

This term sleeping or silent partner refers to a person who invests in a business without taking an active part in its management, and whose association with the enterprise is not public knowledge.
“He works alone but his business is partly financed by a sleeping partner.”

slice/share of the cake

When people feel entitled to a share of the profits or benefits, they want a (larger) slice of the cake (or pie).
“Since profits are higher this year, the workers feel they deserve a bigger slice of the cake.”

smokestack industries

Industries involved in heavy manufacturing such as the production of iron and steel, especially if they cause a lot of pollution, are called smokestack industries.
Smokestack industries are no longer allowed in residential areas.”

smooth waters

A business or operation that is in smooth waters is making regular and easy progress.
“The company seems to be in smooth waters these days.”

speed networking

The term speed networking refers to a relatively recent urban trend which consists in making a potential business contact by briefly talking to a series of people at an organised event and exchanging contact details.

square deal

A transaction that is fair and honest, or an equitable arrangement, is called a square deal.
“We’ve used the same supplier for years and we always get a square deal.”

start the ball rolling

If you start the ball rolling, you begin an activity in which other people will join.
“Let’s start the ball rolling by calling on our first speaker.”

steal a march (on someone or something)

If you steal a march on someone, you do something in an unexpected or secret way that enables you to gain an advantage over them.
“We were able to steal a march on other retailers by immediately offering a 10% reduction on orders received the first day.”

step into the breach

If you step into the breach, you do work that someone else is unexpectedly unable to do.
“Steve stepped into the breach when his colleague had a car accident.”

step into someone’s shoes

If you step into someone’s shoes, you take over a job or position held by someone else before you.
“William has been trained to step into his father’s shoes when he retires.”

strictly business

An appointment or event that is entirely devoted to business, with no leisure or relaxation, is called strictly business.
“Yes we had lunch together but it was strictly business.”

sweat of your brow

If you earn or achieve something by the sweat of your brow, you do it through hard work and no help.
“I got a comfortable lifestyle by the sweat of my brow – I owe it to nobody but myself!”

sweetheart deal

The term sweetheart deal is used to refer to an abnormally lucrative arrangement between two parties, especially between a public body and a private individual or company.
“Opponents say the contract was awarded to the builder as part of a sweetheart deal, and is therefore illegal.”

sweeten the deal

When someone makes an offer or arrangement more attractive by adding extra benefits, they are said to sweeten the deal.
“They sweetened the deal by including a pension plan to get him to accept the job.”

take the floor

When someone takes the floor, they rise to make a speech or presentation.
“When I take the floor, my speech will be short.’ he said.”

take a nosedive

If something takes a nosedive, it drops or decreases in value very rapidly.
“The stock market took a nosedive when the property market began to weaken.”

take offline

If someone suggests that a subject be taken offline (during a meeting for example), they consider that it is a separate issue and should be discussed at another time.
“Peter, you’re confusing things, so let’s take that offline shall we?”

talk shop

If you talk shop, you talk about your work or business in a social situation, with someone you work with, and make the conversation boring for the others present.
“I never go out with my colleagues because we inevitably end up talking shop.”

there for the taking

If something is there for the taking, it is easy to obtain.
“When our main competitor went out of business, the market segment was there for the taking.”

things are looking up

To say that things are looking up means that the situation is improving and you feel more positive about the future.
“Andy has got two job interviews next week so things are looking up.”

throw over the wall

If someone throws something over the wall, they deal with part of a problem or project, then pass the responsibility to another person or department without any communication or coordination.
“You can’t just manufacture a product then throw it over the wall to the sales department!”

too many chiefs, not enough Indians

his expression refers to a situation where there are too many people giving instructions and not enough people doing the work.
“The business wasn’t successful. There were too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”

too much like hard work

An activity or task that is thought to require too much effort is too much like hard work.
“It’s so hot today, there’s no way I’m going to do any cooking.  That’s too much like hard work!”

trade secret

The term ‘trade secret’ refers to the secrecy of a company’s production methods but is often used teasingly.
“Can you give me the recipe for your lemon meringue pie?”  ” No way – that’s a trade secret!”

tricks of the trade

The expression ‘tricks of the trade‘ refers to a clever or expert way of doing things, especially in a job.
“He’s a tough negotiator; he knows all the tricks of the trade.”

turn the company (a)round

Someone who succeeds in turning the company (a)round makes the business profitable again after a period of losses.
“The new director is amazing. He managed to turn the company (a)round in less than a year!”

up and running

If a business or a project is up and running, it has started and is fully operational.
“In some countries you can have a company up and running in a very short time.”

nothing ventured, nothing gained

This expression means that you cannot expect to achieve anything if you risk nothing.
“He’s going to ask his boss for a promotion even though he has little chance of obtaining satisfaction. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!”

walking papers

If you are given your walking papers, your contract or a relationship has ended.
“After causing a diplomatic incident, Carter got his walking papers.”

wear many hats

Someone who wears many hats has to do many different types of tasks or play a variety of roles.
“Our company is small, so the employees need to be flexible and accept to wear many hats.”

wheeling and dealing

Someone accused of wheeling and dealing is thought to be involved in complicated, if not dishonest, deals in business or politics.
“Since the beginning of the election campaign, there’s been a lot of wheeling and dealing going on.”


The term win-win refers to a situation or proposition where both or all parties benefit from the outcome.
“There were smiles all round when the contract was signed – it was a win-win situation.”

have your work cut out for you

If you have to face a difficult task or a challenging situation, you have your work cut out  for you.
“I’ve got a month to reorganise the accounts department. I have my work cut out for me!”