Thursday, January 23, 2020

Sports Idioms: Football

Idioms are very common in daily speech. They come from a variety of sources. Some come from the military, some come from politics, others come from literature. But the top source — the one ‘hitting it out of the ballpark’ — is sports!

Sports are popular in American culture. Many American kids play sports, especially as an after-school activity. Many American adults play sports — golf is popular, as is tennis, basketball and soccer. And of course, there’s watching sports on TV, in particular ‘football’. 

Every year, over 100 million viewers tune in to the Super Bowl. This is a football game between two of the top performing teams of the year in the National Football League (NFL). One team is the winner of the American Football Conference (AFC); the other team is the winner of the National Football Conference (NFC). These two are ‘pitted against’ each other in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the most watched American TV broadcast of the year. 
Non-Americans sometimes refer to this sport as “American football” to distinguish it from what Americans call soccer: in our USA football, it’s all about grabbing the ball with your hands and running with it. In soccer, it’s all about kicking the ball and making sure you keep your hands off of it.

Given this love of sports, Americans talk about sports a lot. That has led to some of this “sports talk” to carry over to our figurative language in the form of idioms. Here are a few:

Let's look at where these three football idioms came from:

1) Monday morning quarterback

The idiom comes from the fact that American football games are usually played on Sunday. On the next day  Monday — it's easy to criticize what the quarterback did wrong. The quarterback is the player is the leader of the offense. Their performance can have a significant impact on the fortunes of his team. Before each play, the quarterback tells his team which play the team will run. 

So this term is always negative. You may see it phrased as:
  • I don't mean to be a Monday morning quarterback ...
  • It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but ...
After a tackle, players have "piled on."

2) pile on

In football, this is when one or more players jump on top of a player after a tackle has been made. From the act of physically "piling on," comes the more figurative "piling on" of joining an argument or a verbal attack on a single person.

3) huddle up

When football players "huddle up," they gather close together to discuss a play. When managers in a company "huddle up," they meet to discuss a plan or strategy.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Eight Business English Idioms to Discuss Success

The following is from a Wall Street Journal entitled How to Survive Being an Overnight Success. Getting quick success as an entrepreneur sounds great, doesn't it? But this article points out that there are some challenges with trying to grow too quickly. The words and idioms we will focus on are in blue.
It seems like a dream scenario for a startup: Sales surge, and business takes off.
But then what?
Any number of things can turn a small business into a rapid success—from a TV appearance to great connections at a trade show to a viral online video—but sustaining that success forces an entrepreneur to make tough choices. For instance: Should the company immediately ramp up production and risk lowering product quality? Bring in more workers to help an overstressed staff, and risk destroying company culture? Try to live off the original innovation, or plow lots of cash into R&D to develop new ones that might not pan out?
How do I meet demand?
It’s the immediate problem a company must deal with when it hits the big time quickly. All of its systems are set up to handle a certain level of production and sales. And suddenly it is swamped with orders. 
Here's our vocabulary for this article extract:
(to) surge - to increase quickly
(to) take off - to become popular; to turn successful
(to) ramp up - to increase
(to) live off - to make enough money from something
(to) plow lots of cash into - to invest a lot of money in
(to) pan out - to be successful
(to) hit the big time - to become very successful or popular
swamped (with) - to be overwhelmed with; to have more than one can manage

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Learn Business English with Some News on Facebook

Today we're looking at an article about Facebook from the New York Times. As you may have heard, Facebook is making more and more money by selling ads on its site. In this article, we learn of a company finding success selling fish oil through Facebook. The words and idioms we'll focus on are highlighted in blue:
The idea was to come up with a big, sweeping campaign to market MegaRed, a premium alternative to fish oil pills, to users of the social network. Each ad had to be so compelling that it would get people to stop scrolling through their news feeds ...
But from where Mr. Rodrigues sat, as the guy who would write the checks for the proposed campaign, the Facebook people seemed to be missing an essential point
The advantage of advertising on the world’s largest social network was that it could do something television ads could not: Using sophisticated analytics, it could help him find people who were already buying fish oil or other products that suggested they were concerned about the health of their hearts, and perhaps persuade them to switch to his brand.
At the meeting, the company’s ad strategists were saying they wanted him to spend money to show ads to every American woman 45 and older on Facebook. Finally, with some exasperation, Mr. Rodrigues — the marketing director for vitamins, minerals and supplements at Reckitt Benckiser, the company that owns MegaRed — blurted out what he’d been thinking. For that kind of broad blitz, he said, “I can go to television at a quarter the price.”

Now let's look at the highlighted words and phrases:

compelling - attracting interest; very interesting and appealing

missing [the] point  - not understanding the problem; focusing on the wrong thing

exasperation - annoyance; intense irritation

to blurt out - to say suddenly or without thinking; to say something sensitive that nobody is expecting you to say

blitz - an advertising campaign (often a large one). Note: this is from the military, meaning a campaign in which bombs are dropped from airplanes

I hope you enjoyed this short Business English lesson! If you're looking for more Business English, please check out the new app Business English Negotiations for iPhone and iPad:

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Business English Lesson Inspired by the CEO of IBM

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of IBM had to tell her employees that they needed to change. So what did she do? She recorded a video message and posted it on the company blog. Her message to her 434,000 employees: you need to move faster! Of course, the video was passed on to the news media (also called "the press"). Did CEO Virginia Rometty deliver the news to her employees the right way -- or was she yelling at them as if they were children? The jury is still out (that means, people are still discussing that question!). Businessweek — a weekly business news magazine — just published an article about this. Let's look at some pieces of this article and then discuss the expressions and words in bold:

After the disappointing earnings report on April 18, Rometty released a video to all 434,000 employees in which she admitted that IBM hadn’t “transformed rapidly enough.” She called out the sales staff for missing out on several big deals. “We were too slow,” she said. “The result? It didn’t get done.” The press got wind of her message, and Rometty’s now accused of the corporate equivalent of yelling at her children in public. The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story, called the outburst a “rare companywide reprimand.” IBM declined to comment on the video ...

Employees aren’t going to watch one video or read one memo and completely change the way they work—the company has to change, too. In the video, Rometty laid out a plan for IBM to respond to customers within 24 hours: “Engage management, engage leadership, and let’s deal with it.” She’s already “reassigned” the head of IBM’s computer hardware department, the source of a large portion of the sales drop. “Ginni’s a very direct, no-BS type of CEO, and she had one message that she delivered to everyone,” [Professor Noel] Tichy says. “It would be much worse if it went through the internal channels. No one wants to hear that the CEO thinks they dropped the ball through word of mouth.”

Now let's look at the expressions and word in bold:

(to) get wind of - to find out about something, often a secret

outburst - a sudden expression of feeling (often full of emotion)

(to) lay out a plan - to present a plan

no-BS - short for no bullshit (BS means bullshit; therefore, no-BS is just the opposite!)

(to) drop the ball - to make a mistake; to fail to perform one's responsibilities

word of mouth - gossip; news spread by people talking to each other (note: often used as a marketing term to describe an advertising or marketing message that is spread from one person to another -- which is a positive thing for the company because it means that people are talking about the company's product or service).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Business English Greetings — and News of American Greetings

When I was growing up, I loved receiving greeting cards in the mail. My favorite greeting cards had Snoopy
on them. I would save and review them for years. So when e-cards came along and people stopped sending cards in the mail, I was not very happy. I am sure the management of American Greetings, a large greeting card company, was not so happy either!

In today's Wall Street Journal, we learn that American Greetings is saying goodbye to the stock market and taking itself private. The article is entitled "Wishing You a Fond Farewell – From the Stock Market." Let's read the beginning of the article and improve our business English. Words and expressions we'll explore are highlighted in blue and defined below:

It is an industry that thrived in the days when the printed word was king and correspondence went through the mail. But like many other businesses, it was battered by the rise of lively, innovative and often free competitors online, where stamps and handwriting aren't needed.
Welcome to the greeting-card industry, where the biggest publicly traded U.S. company in the business has decided to bid adieu to the stock market, announcing plans to go private. The Weiss family—descendants of the Polish immigrant who founded American Greetings Corp. shortly after his arrival in Cleveland in 1905—on Monday said it agreed to pay $18.20 in cash per share to remove the company from the public markets.   The greetings-card business has seen better days, and American Greetings today is worth almost 65% less than it was at its peak in 1998. Like many media companies, it was hit hard by the Internet, with customers finding new ways to share old sentiments like birthday or holiday greetings. Tech companies including Apple and Facebook launched their own electronic greetings businesses, letting their customers send physical or electronic gifts and greetings on a birthday or anniversary.

(to) thrive – to do very well; to succeed; to flourish (in this case, the greeting card industry was thriving ... back in the days when people actually sent their greetings by regular mail rather than via the Internet).

correspondence – communication by letters (in other words, people writing to each other)

battered by – hurt seriously by (Note: this can be used in the financial sense, as it is here. It can also be used in the physical sense as in: Our beach house in New Jersey was battered by Hurricane Sandy).

publicly traded company – a company that trades on the stock exchange (versus a private company that is owned by one family or group of investors)

(to) go private – to remove a company from the stock exchange, so it is once again owned by private investors. This is the reverse process of "going public" in which a company lists itself on the stock exchange. 

(to) have seen better days – to be in a period of decline or slow sales (yes, American Greetings definitely has seen better days -- 15 years ago, it was worth a lot more than it is today).

(to be) hit hard by – to suffer losses due to something (in this case, American Greetings was hit hard by the rise of e-cards, with consumers sending more greetings by Internet than by regular mail, or "snail mail.")

For more business English idioms, check out the new app for iPad & iPhone, Business English Power Idioms. It's a cheap and fun way to work on your business English!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Let's Learn Some Business English with a Story about Jesus (the Brand)

An advertisement for Jesus Jeans
(It looks like this model could have 

gone for the next size up!).
No, this is not going to be a post about religion. It's going to be a post to help you improve your Business English (and your legal English). But we are going to be talking about Jesus today. That's because an Italian clothing company has trademarked the name "Jesus" and uses it on its Jesus Jeans. It's now fighting with other clothing companies trying to use the name Jesus too.

In conversational English we sometimes say "Jesus!" to express anger or outrage (or the shortened "Jeez!"). Some of the people in the newspaper article we are going to look at today are definitely saying "Jesus!" They are very unhappy that one company is not sharing the "Jesus" name. Who would have though that dozens of clothing companies would choose "Jesus" as their brand name? And then start fighting about it? All of this is not in the spirit of Jesus himself, but it does make for interesting reading (and English study!).

Let's take a look at the newspaper article, which is entitled "If You Take These Jeans' Name in Vain, Prepare to Meet Their Maker" and is from the Wall Street Journal. The expressions we will study are in blue.

Inspired by his time leading a singles ministry in Virginia Beach, Va., Michael Julius Anton came up with an idea for a clothing line that he thought was catchy and unique—"Jesus Surfed." He was on good ground with "Surfed." But when he went to register the trademark, he found someone had beaten him to Jesus.
In a branding coup of biblical proportions, an Italian jeans maker persuaded the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in 2007 to register the word "Jesus" as a trademark, giving the company exclusive rights in America to sell clothing bearing the name of Christianity's central figure.
Since then, the owner of the trademark, Jesus Jeans, has clamped down on Jesus-themed apparel, pitting its litigators against more than a dozen other startup clothing lines it claims appropriated "Jesus" without the company's blessing. The company doesn't have a trademark on images of Jesus, just the word.
Before taking on Jesus Surfed, Jesus Jeans objected to "Jesus First," "Sweet Jesus," and "Jesus Couture," among others, which abandoned their trademark efforts. In some cases, when met with resistance, Jesus Jeans warned that it could sue for damages.
Now let's look at the definitions of vocabulary:

(to) come up with – to think of

catchy – memorable, appealing (Note: You will often heard the phrase "catchy tune," meaning a song or melody that stays in your head and is fun to sing, though eventually it might drive you crazy)

on good ground  safe with (Note: this terms first appeared in the Bible, which is probably why the author of this newspaper article chose to use it in a story about Jesus: Here is a quote from Luke 8:15, King James Bible: But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.)

(to) register a trademark – to formally register a symbol (name, logo, etc) for a product with a governmental patent office (in the USA, with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, USPTO)

(to) beaten someone to – to do something before somebody else has a chance (in this case, Jesus Jeans beat Jesus Surfed to register the "Jesus" trademark)

of biblical proportions – great; having big consequences; large in scope (Note: This often refers to natural disasters -- Example: A wildfire of biblical proportions swept through California and destroyed hundreds of houses). Biblical is the adjective form of Bible, so here we have a play on words.

(to) clamp down on – to get strict about

(to) pit someone against – to put someone up to fighting someone or something

blessing – two definitions (which is what makes this word choice another play on words here): 1) approval and 2) a favor or gift bestowed by God (Note: there are some other definitions of this word also)

(to) meet with resistance – to face one's objections to something 

(to) sue for damages – to take someone to court and try to get money (or other compensation) from them for harming one's business

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Love Business English: in Honor of Valentine's Day

Pam and Jim from the Office. An example of a
successful office romance.
In honor of Valentine's Day, I've chosen an article on workplace romances to help you improve your Business English. Ahhh, the workplace romance. We all have stories of love at the office. I remember when an old boss of mine disappeared for several days in Europe immediately following an official business trip. Coincidentally, a young assistant at the office was also in Europe for those same three days!

An old friend of mine fell in love during a summer internship. She ended up leaving her husband. The man she fell in love with left his wife. They now have children and are, as far as I know, happily married. So sometimes the office romance does end happily (even when it starts out as "an affair," because one or both of the love-birds is married).

Now, let's get down to business and look at our article for today. It's called "When Cupid Visits the Office, Rules Can Cut Risks" and it is from the Wall Street Journal. We will look at an extract from the article first, with words and phrases to study highlighted in blue.
Companies by now are well-acquainted with the hazards of workplace romance. But, if recent incidents are any indicator, they still find it tricky to put a lid on office passions.
Some companies have attempted to regulate the romantic sparks that fly between co-workers, mindful of the potential legal fallout.
Still, even the best-crafted rules can't guard against workers who follow their instincts instead of consulting the employee handbook.
Inappropriate relationships can topple careers, and allegations of unwanted attention or favoritism can cost companies millions of dollars and land businesses in the headlines for all the wrong reasons…
Lawyers say companies that do lay out ground rules for dating may be able to head some lawsuits off at the pass—or at least curb corporate liability should matters end up in court.
"It's not just about warding off or fending off a claim of harassment. You also don't want to create the kind of environment or perception that that's a way to get ahead," said David S. Baffa, an employment lawyer and head of the workplace-compliance practice at Chicago law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP.
Now let's look at the highlighted words and phrases:

(to) put a lid on – to stop; to stop something from increasing. This is often used to discuss spending. For example: Expenses are getting out of control. We need to put a lid on spending.

sparks fly / make sparks fly / when sparks fly – this refers to the reaction between two people. Here, the reference is to "romantic" sparks -- in other words, two people attracted to each other. Taylor Swift has a popular love song called "Sparks Fly" (¯Sing it: 'Cause I see sparks fly whenever you smile'¯). Also, note that the sparks flying can refer to anger between two people. For example: Doug and Marie disagree on everything. If they're both at the meeting, sparks will fly.

fallout – consequences; bad results of a situation (in this case, the "legal fallout" refers to the lawsuits or legal troubles that may happen following an unsuccessful office romance)

(to) topple – to cause to fall (in both the figurative and the literal sense: when you stack blocks on top of each other and the tower gets tall, you put one more on and the whole thing topples over).

ground rules – basic rules; rules that everybody should be know and follow (Note: I've never worked at a company that laid out the ground rules for dating. All the employee manuals I've seen are pretty boring -- how many days in advance to ask for a vacation day, insurance policies -- nothing so interesting as How to Behave if You've Fallen in Love with a Co-worker).

head something off at the pass – to stop something from happening (in this case, to stop a lawsuit from happening).

(to) curb – to reduce (This verb is also often associated with spending.Example: Money is tight. We need to curb spending).

(to) ward off – to stop something from happening; to hold something off (This phrasal verb is often associated with illness. Example: Many people at my office are sick right now. I'm doing my best to ward off illness).

(to) fend off – to stop something from happening (Note that this is very similar in meaning to "ward off").

(to) get ahead – to advance in one's career (Yes, one way to get ahead may be to become romantic partners with the right person in the organization -- but the lawyer in this article says the company should not create an atmosphere where people think that).

I hope you've enjoyed this Valentine's Day lesson. If so, check out More Speak English Like an American, which is full of more useful idioms and vocabulary for Business English. And office romance, too!