Thursday, July 16, 2009

This iPhone Story Has Some Great Business Idioms!

It looks like iPhones are creating lots of opportunities for small businesses. It is also creating an opportunity for us to review some great business English expressions. And speaking of using phones to learn English, has anybody out there found any useful apps (applications) for learning English through their mobile phone or smartphone? If so, please post a comment!

The following is the beginning of an article from a Wall Street Journal article entitled "Seeking Fame in Apple's Sea of Apps." Phrases to be discussed are in blue. Reminder to check out the bestselling book & audio CD set "Speak Business English Like an American" for more useful business English expressions.

Apple Inc.'s App Store has spawned a cottage industry of software developers trying to profit from games and other applications that people can download onto their iPhones.

But with more than 65,000 free and paid applications in the online store, success has hinged on an app's ability to stand out. So developers are increasingly coming up with various strategies to make a splash, employing everything from temporary discounts to guerilla marketing tactics.

cottage industry - a small-scale industry; a market in which the competitors are individual or very small companies and often operation out of their homes (hence the "cottage")

profit from - make money from

hinged on - depended on

stand out - rise above or grab more attention than the competition

make a splash - become an immediate success; make a big impact

guerilla marketing - marketing tactics that do not require much money but do require time and imagination; unconventional or unusual ways to market a product or service (often used by small companies because they cannot afford large advertising budgets)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Start-up Success - a Great Source of American English Expressions!

At least some part of the American economy is improving! Once again, we are hearing of small technology companies - or "start-ups" becoming successful. It is not quite the "dot-com boom" of the late 90's, but perhaps we'll get there. At the very least, this should inspire a few of the thousands if young Americans sitting around this summer complaining that they can't get a job (or working at something beneath them).

By the way, if you're spending part of your summer trying to do something productive - such as improving your business English sign up as a follower of this blog so that you get notice whenever there's a new posting. Feel free to post a comment too if you see an interesting business idiom or expression you'd like to discuss.

The following is from an article in the New York Times entitled "We Rent Movies, So Why Not Textbooks?" by Miguel Helft. The phrases we'll be studying are in blue.


Success in Silicon Valley often emerges through trial and error. Willingness to buck popular trends can help, too. Just ask Osman Rashid and Aayush Phumbhra, the co-founders of, a company that rents textbooks to college students.

When the two entrepreneurs started Chegg, then called CheggPost, in 2003, they envisioned a sort of Craigslist for college campuses, a network of university-based Web sites where students would buy and sell everything from used mattresses to textbooks. Like most Internet start-ups of that time, the plan was to make money from advertising.

It didn’t turn out that way. CheggPost gained some traction on a handful of campuses but didn’t take off. Still, the experience offered a few valuable lessons...

...So, in 2007, Mr. Rashid and Mr. Phumbhra went back to the drawing board and came up with the idea of renting books.


trial and error - the process of trying something again and again until you succeed. You don't know exactly what you're doing when you get started, but you figure it out in the process.

(to) buck popular trends - to go against the trend (what everybody else is doing); to do things differently than what everybody else is doing

(to) gain traction - to become popular

(to) take off - to start selling well; to gain in popularity

(to) go back to the drawing board - to start again because the last attempt(s) failed

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Learn Some Useful English through the Swine Flu News!

Just when you thought the financial crisis may be under control and the world was setting down again...swine flu mania has struck! Instead of sitting and worrying about it, take action. Practice your English with this swine flu news:

Here is part of an article from the Wall Street Journal. Words and expressions to be discussed are in blue:

As fears of swine flu spread, companies ranging from soap and hand-sanitizer manufacturers to makers of designer face masks are ramping up their marketing efforts, mostly pitching prevention messages starring their products. stepping up its advertising for Dial Complete foaming hand wash, rapidly assembling a push that includes national print and online ads and in-store displays...Johnson & Johnson, which makes Purell Instant Hand Sanitizer, is updating its Web site and evaluating how best to offer hygiene information to the public. increasing production of its disinfectant spray to meet an uptick in demand and mounting a public-relations push to educate consumers about protecting their families from germs. HandClens, an upstart hand sanitizer made by Woodward Laboratories...says it is more than doubling its ad budget and promotional efforts and distributing its "ABC: Always Be Clean" hand-hygiene teaching program to school districts across the country....

But the marketers have to walk a fine line as they hawk their products during a public-health emergency.


(to) ramp up one's (marketing) efforts - to increase an activity; when a company ramps up their marketing efforts, they are going to be spending more money on various promotional and advertising campaigns

(to) step up - to increase; to start focusing on something

uptick in demand - an increase in demand; what every company wants to see in order to sell more products and make more money!

upstart - a new company; a company that was recently started; sometimes called a "start-up," especially when it deals in technology

(to) walk a fine line - to act with sensitivity; to act according to how delicate the situation is -- in the case of this swine flu virus, companies don't want to appear to be piggish(!) in their desire to benefit from the problem by selling more cleaning products that people need to prevent illness

(to) hawk one's products - to sell a product (usually in a pushy way); the verb "hawk" here suggests that the selling is not 100% in good taste. In other words, the company is aggressively pushing a product to make some quick money