Business idioms

Go off the rails

A train going off the rails

If someone loses complete control of their behavior or emotions, then you can say that they have gone off the rails. We use the expression go off the rails to refer to someone who has started to behave in a strange or abnormal way. In many cases, their actions are considered to be inappropriate or unacceptable compared to their usual standards. As a result, they are likely to cause damage either to themselves or others.

The tables have turned

During a chess match, the tables can turn.

If someone used to be in a better position than you in terms of wealth, power or overall advantage, but now you are in a better position than them, then the tables have turned. We say that the tables have turned when the roles between two people (or groups of people) have reversed and are now the opposite of what they used to be. It means that the person who once had the advantage in a situation now has the disadvantage, and vice versa.

Humour me

A smiling businessman drinking coffee

When you say humour me, you are asking someone to simplify what they are saying. It implies that you know that the other person might find it silly or pointless. It is an expression that shows humility.

This expression is appropriate for use in personal and professional settings as it asks others to explain their ideas in a way that you can understand. It is especially appropriate when someone is using specialized language.

Beat around the bush

Oversized bush, trimmed into a globe shape

If someone beats around the bush, they do not talk about a subject in an open or direct way. Instead, they may talk about a lot of irrelevant or unimportant details to avoid getting to the main point. People usually beat around the bush, either consciously or subconsciously, when they are trying to avoid a subject that is sensitive, controversial, or uncomfortable. As a result, the person may approach the topic cautiously by discussing it in a vague or roundabout way.

In the bag

If you have something in the bag, it means that you are sure that you will achieve it or acquire it. We usually use this expression to predict a future success that seems certain or, at least, highly probable.

This expression can be used in a variety of situations, although it is better suited to informal contexts. For example:

Blow something out of proportion

If you blow something out of proportion, then you make it seem more important than it actually is. We use this expression when someone overreacts or exaggerates the seriousness of a situation. As a result, the situation is given more attention than it deserves.

This expression can be used to refer to unfavorable behavior that occurs in both personal and professional contexts. For example:

On the ball

When someone is on the ball, they pay close attention to the details of an activity or project. As a result, they are usually knowledgeable and quick to respond to changes.

Employers like to have employees who are on the ball because it means that they are competent and alert. This expression can be used in professional settings to make reference to someone’s work ethic. It can also be used in casual settings to say that someone is smart or organized in general. For example:

Cut back

When you cut back on something, you reduce the amount of money, time or energy that you spend on it. If you decide to cut back on an activity, it’s likely because it was being done in excess.

We usually use "cut back" with “on” and then a description of the activity. It can also be used without “on,” especially if the expression is placed at the end of a sentence. 

Stay on top of something

If you want to be organized, you have to stay on top of your work. When you stay on top of something, you follow it closely to make sure that you're up to date. This means that you are fully in control of the situation and can react quickly if something changes.  

This expression can be used in both personal and professional contexts. The expression is formed using "stay on top of" and then the subject. For example:

Hit the ground running

If you start a new project with the intention to work hard immediately, then you hit the ground running. We use this expression when we are prepared to start a project right from the beginning, with a high level of energy, enthusiasm, and efficiency. 

When we hit the ground running, we do not waste time doing tasks that delay progress. The goal is to achieve success quickly. This usually requires some form of preparation, background knowledge, or related experience. For example:

The big picture

When we look at the big picture, we view a situation as a whole. We do not focus on the small details of its individual parts.

Have you ever worked on a long-term project that was delayed because too much time was spent on the small details? When we look at the big picture, we focus on the most important facts of a situation. We then evaluate how those facts will affect the overall situation in the future.