Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Confused at Work? 7 American English Terms for the Office

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Apr 15, 2013 @ 08:20 AM

American English terms for the officeDo you get confused at work when you hear strange American English terms like "touch base" or "low hanging fruit"?

These are not phrases that you learned in school, that's for sure!

Want to know what these phrases mean and how to use them?

Today we have a lesson from Lizzie, a native English speaker, international traveler, and language learner.

In this lesson, Lizzie will teach you how to understand and use some of the most common business English phrases that you are likely to hear at the office every day.



Your international colleagues want to know these phrases too!

Share this article with them!



7 Confusing Phrases


Offices and businesses are full of jargon, or words that are exclusive to these environments. Over the years, a number of confusing phrases have emerged in the business world, some of which are difficult to understand if English is not your first language (although many are still confusing even if English is your first language!). Here are some of the most popular ones and their meanings so you can impress your boss, colleagues, and employees.



"Big Hitter"

big hitter american english business phraseThis phrase refers to someone who is important and powerful within your company or within the business world.

It is usually a person who is an expert at what they do and who works hard at what they do.


Using it in context: “I have a meeting with John Smith later. He’s a big hitter.”




"Core Competencies"

 "core competencies, dartboardCompetencies" are a combination of things you are good at and "core" refers to something main or central. When these two words are put together, they mean the main things you or your company does well.

You might want to highlight your "core competencies" on your resume when applying for a job, where you would write down the things you are good at and what you would do well if you were to get the job. In the office environment, it usually refers to the things your company is good at or the thing that it focuses on the most.


Using it in context: “We need to promote our core competencies so our clients know what we are good at.” 



"Cutting Edge"

cutting edge  business English language, robotThis phrase isn’t just used in the business world – you might also see it when reading about the arts or technology.

It means the most recent version of something, or something that is really modern and has never been done before.


Using it in context: “Our design team uses cutting edge technology.”







"Low Hanging Fruit"

 low hanging fruit business English termThis is a very confusing phrase that doesn’t look like it would fit into the office environment.

It refers to the smaller, easier tasks that can be done quickly but that are necessary to reach a bigger goal.

So if you’re company’s main task is to get more clients, the low hanging fruit would be tasks like customer surveys and researching competitors.


Using it in context: “Let’s pick off the low hanging fruit before doing the bigger tasks.”



"Touch Base"

 touch base picture of baseball playersThis is basically a longer way of saying you want to talk with someone, or check in with them to see how they are doing.

Your boss might want to touch base with you to see how the project you are working on is coming along.


Using it in context: “Let’s touch base later to see where we are at with this project.”




"Thinking Outside the Box"

think outside the box, business English phraseTo think outside the box is to think of things that might not be obvious.

There might be a clear way to do something that has been done before, but to think outside the box is to move away from this and to think of things that have not been done before.


Using it in context: “We need to think outside the box for this project.”



 "From the Get-Go"

 from the get go, picture of the beginning of a horse raceThis is just another way of saying "from the start," but one that is commonly used in the business world.


Using it in context: “We need to think creatively from the get-go.”







Speak English with Confidence NOW




Lizzie writes for GEOS Languages Plus and other language school sites. Last year she went to learn Spanish in Spain where she realized that language learning has to become a part of everyday life if you want to succeed. She writes about the language learning process and the things you can do to make it fun and easy.


Photo credits: andreas_fischler, jzhouphotpgraphy, RDECOM, eviltomthai, Linda Dougherty

Topics: English Lessons, Vocabulary Workshop, Business English Vocabulary

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