October 21, 2014 21:28 UTC

Words and Their Stories: Get Your Act Together

Organization is the name of the game | WORDS AND THEIR STORIES

Producers George Cloney, Ben Affleck, and Grant Heslov pose backstage with their Oscars® for best motion picture of the year for “Argo”.(Photo: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S)
Producers George Cloney, Ben Affleck, and Grant Heslov pose backstage with their Oscars® for best motion picture of the year for “Argo”.(Photo: Matt Petit / ©A.M.P.A.S)

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I'm Susan Clark with the Special English program WORDS AND THEIR STORIES.
 

A woman from Japan was telling a friend about her trip to the United States. The woman had visited major businesses and investment companies in New York City and Chicago.

"I studied English before I left home," she said. "But I still was not sure that people were speaking English."

Her problem is easy to understand. Americans in business are like people who are in business anywhere. They have a language of their own. Some of the words and expressions deal with the special areas of their work. Other expressions are borrowed from different kinds of work such as the theater and movie industry.

One such saying is get your act together.

When things go wrong in a business, an employer may get angry. He may shout, "Stop making mistakes. Get your act together."

Or, if the employer is calmer, he may say, "Let us get our act together."

Either way, the meaning is the same. Getting your act together is getting organized. In business, it usually means to develop a calm and orderly plan of action.

It is difficult to tell exactly where the saying began. But, it is probable that it was in the theater or movie industry. Perhaps one of the actors was nervous and made a lot of mistakes. The director may have said, "Calm down, now. Get your act together."

Word expert James Rogers says the expression was common by the late nineteen seventies. Mister Rogers says the Manchester Guardian newspaper used it in nineteen seventy-eight. The newspaper said a reform policy required that the British government get its act together.

Now, this expression is heard often when officials of a company meet. One company even called its yearly report, "Getting Our Act Together."

The Japanese visitor was confused by another expression used by American business people. It is cut to the chase.

She heard that expression when she attended an important meeting of one company. One official was giving a very long report. It was not very interesting. In fact, some people at the meeting were falling asleep.

Finally, the president of the company said, "Cut to the chase."

Cut to the chase means to stop spending so much time on details or unimportant material. Hurry and get to the good part.

Naturally, this saying was started by people who make movies. Hollywood movie producers believe that most Americans want to see action movies. Many of their movies show scenes in which the actors chase each other in cars, or in airplanes or on foot.

Cut is the director's word for stop. The director means to stop filming, leave out some material, and get to the chase scene now.

So, if your employer tells you to cut to the chase, be sure to get to the main point of your story quickly.

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