9 Business Idioms You Probably Haven’t Heard

Idioms are similar to metaphors. We use both idioms and metaphors to describe things with artistic expression and illustration. You might hear such expressions like ‘see eye to eye’, ‘speak of the devils’, and ‘once in the blue moon’. Those are some examples of general idioms.

Do you know that idioms exist for business matters too, ET Mates? Yup! If you want to know how to spice up your business conversation in English, you are on the right page! Here are nine business idioms (and their examples) for you:

1.  By the book

If you think about what the word ‘book’ refers to, it refers to the rule book. So, this idiom means we have to work according to established procedure.

Example: If you are going to have a meeting with a client, please do it by the book.

2. Pencil something in

When someone asks you to pencil something in, it means they ask to arrange a flexible schedule so we can just erase it easily if we want to change it.

Example: Let’s pencil on Sunday for a fun gathering.

3. Against the clock

If you are in a situation when you feel like running out of time and you are in a hurry to meet deadlines, then against the clock is the most suitable expression for you.

Example: Oh my God! I’m working against the clock.

4. Back to the drawing board

Some companies use a drawing board to make concepts of a new project before they write it down in a proposal. Therefore, the idiom means we have to start from the beginning again.

Example: The manager must go back to the drawing board and reevaluate the marketing strategies.

5. Busman’s Holiday

Busman’s Holiday means you are taking some days off but you still do something similar with your work.

Example: The filmmaker is on the busman’s holiday. Yeah, he’s watching a bunch of movies to spend his day off.

6. Burn the midnight oil

It’s not that we’re going to burn our office at midnight. The idiom represents the idea of working until late at night.

Example: Tomorrow is the weekend, why don’t you leave on time? Don’t burn the midnight oil too often.

7. Back to the salt mines.

Although it is mentioned ‘salt mines’, it doesn’t mean a marketing staff cannot say it. The idiom means it’s time to go back to work.

Example: Holiday’s over, back to the salt mines.

8. Eleventh Hour

If you notice, the clock starts with the number twelve and ends with the number eleven. So, we can conclude that Eleventh Hour means at the last minute.

Example: You want me to change the proposal on the eleventh hour??

9. Raise the red flag

In the past, people waved red flags as a warning of something dangerous. In business, we don’t wave them now, but we can use this idiom to tell people that there’s some trouble.

Example: During this global pandemic, the government is raising the red flag in the stock marketplace.

Now that you know business idioms, you can practice these expressions with your colleagues. Also, there are more of these business idioms — an abundance of them! If only we can list them all here, but you most certainly can learn more idioms in our Business English class, ET Mates! Check out our website

In fact, it is part of day-to-day language…

best to point out that it is part of natural speech


try incorporating this into the entirety of the context.

“If only we can list them all here, but you most certainly can learn more idioms in our Business English class, ET Mates! Check out our website …….”

you can even put this in the middle of the article as some sort of “hey did you know we also teach this in our classes?”