The Wisdom of Idioms

Hand Around the GlobeIdioms are handy things, not just because of their ability to sum up complex thoughts, but often for their deeper meanings.  Every culture has them, and knowing them adds a certain level of belonging even to a non-native speaker.

Growing up in Africa, I learned the value of idioms early.  Well, you couldn’t be around adults and not get earfuls of idiomatic expressions.  Quite simply, idioms laced good conservations.  They educate, advocate, and entertain.  You name it, there’s an African idiom for it.

That early exposure got me interested in English idioms.  My motivation was simple.  As a non-native speaker, I wanted to acquire the liberty to toss these gems around – in context, and with relevance.  So in my spare time, I collect idioms, including English idioms.

Quirky?  Yes.

Wait until you’re at a fancy party or important business meeting and you come face-to-face with an idiom you don’t recognize.  Awkward, is when you don’t have the timely feedback expected from you.

So I consider my collection of idioms part of being ready for a rainy day – well, there’s an idiom for you!

I thought I’d share a dozen of my favorite business-related English idioms, with definitions, courtesy of the Oxford Dictionary of Idioms.  I’ve also added my take as they relate to business applications.  See if you agree.


Idiom #1Keep one’s eye on the ball.

Meaning:  Keeping one’s attention on the matter at hand.

Business Application:  Focus on what’s important to your goal.


Idiom #2Know something like the back of one’s hand.

Meaning:  Be entirely familiar with something.

Business Application:  Expertise built on a learner’s mindset.


Idiom #3With bated breath.

Meaning:  In great suspense; very anxiously or excitedly.

Business Application:  Enthusiasm adds a refreshing touch to all business tasks.


Idiom #4Back to basics.

Meaning:  Abandoning complication and sophistication to concentrate on the most essential aspects of something.

Business Application:  Keep it simple and efficient.


Idiom #5Beat someone at their own game.

Meaning:  Use someone’s own methods to outdo them in their chosen activity.

Business Application:  Adapt creatively.


Idiom #6If you can’t beat them, join them.

Meaning:  If you are unable to outdo rivals in some endeavor, you might as well cooperate with them and gain whatever advantage possible by doing so.

Business Application:  Strategic alliances build strength.


Idiom #7Bite off more than one can chew.

Meaning:  Take on a commitment one cannot fulfill.

Business Application:  Scheduling is a vital business skill.


Idiom #8Bleed someone dry.

Meaning:  Drain someone of all their money or resources.

Business Application:  Fair pricing builds clientele and trust.


Idiom #9Give someone a break.

Meaning:  Stop putting pressure on someone about something.

Business Application:  We’ve all been there.  Easy does it.


Idiom #10Bury one’s head in the sand.

Meaning:  Ignore unpleasant realities; refuse to face facts.

Business Application:  Don’t ignore what’s not working; fix it, revise it, or discard it.


Idiom #11Let the cat out of the bag.

Meaning:  Reveal a secret, especially carelessly or by mistake.

Business Application:  Confidentiality builds trust; promise it to clients.


Idiom #12Too many cooks spoil the broth.

Meaning:  If too many people are involved in a task or activity, it will not be done well.

Business Application:  Learn the art of beneficial delegation and coordination.


There are, of course, many more of these gems to explore and assimilate.  But, a word to the wise – I just had to throw that in.

I hope you’d share some your favorite idioms.

© Copyright Rachel Agheyisi and Report Content Writer’s Blog, 2009


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