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October 15, 2000 - Slangman: Business Slang - 2002-02-01

INTRO: Now let's get down to business with VOA's Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti.

MUSIC "Organization Man"/Frank Loesser

AA: To succeed in any organization, it helps to speak the language, in this case the language of business. And since most business is conducted in a formal setting, you might think your speaking style should be formal, too.

RS: But slang also enters the picture at business meetings. From VOA's Los Angeles studio Slangman David Burke tells us if don't know the jargon of business, you will be at a definite disadvantage.


"Imagine if you are at a negotiation and the person across the table from you says he's ready to 'cut a deal.' Well, in everyday slang if someone says, 'cut it out,' that means 'stop, stop it, cut it out.' If someone says they want to 'cut a deal' they are not saying they want to stop the deal. They are saying they want to make a deal with you. And, you need to understand that."

"What if someone says, how are you going to 'sweeten this deal'? To sweeten coffee means you add sugar to it and you make the coffee taste better. So if you 'sweeten a deal' you are adding something to that deal, maybe extra money for the other person or you are bringing down the price or you are giving them some extra advantages. So you are 'sweetening the deal.'"

AA: You certainly don't want to "blow the deal."

RS: ... in other words, ruin it.

AA: Slangman David Burke had some other expressions that apply to negotiators.


DAVID BURKE: "Usually we hear things like 'to wheel and deal.'"

RS: "Or someone is a 'wheeler-dealer.'"

DAVID BURKE: "Yes, if you are a 'wheeler and a dealer,' a 'wheeler-dealer,' you are someone who is a really good negotiator. And, if you are someone who is good at 'wheeling and dealing,' you like to 'play hardball.'"

RS: "And that has nothing to do with baseball."

BURKE: "Not at all! 'To play hardball' simply means that you are a tough negotiator. O.K., I'm ready to play hardball. And, if you 'stick to your guns' during the negotiations, you don't move from your position. You want to 'stick to your guns' no matter what the other person offers, and then you are going to 'drive a hard bargain.' That's another expression for to be a tough negotiator and get everything you want out of that negotiation."

AA: And since negotiations often take place around a table, the table itself is another source for slang words.


DAVID BURKE: "If I were to say to you, 'OK, we are going to put this topic 'on the table'. What does that mean to you?"

AA: "We're going to propose it."

DAVID BURKE: "Right! It's on the table. We're going to talk about it. We're going to discuss it. But, if I say, instead of putting the topic 'on the table' we're going to 'table the topic.'" RS: That means to end the discussion.

AA: At least it does in American English. In British English to "table a topic" means just the opposite -- it means to propose a topic.

RS: From the table, David Burke points us to another part of the meeting room.


DAVID BURKE: "Let's say that you are having a huge meeting and someone says to you, 'OK, you have the floor.'"

RS: "That means you can talk."

DAVID BURKE: "Your turn to speak, right! You have the floor. You have permission to speak. And that's a very strange concept. If you take that literally, 'I have the floor!?' OK, the person who does give you the floor is called the chair."

RS: "It's interesting, a lot of these idioms present an image of things."

DAVID BURKE: "It's true a lot of these expressions are very colorful and create an image in your head. Imagine if you are at a meeting and you are all trying to 'brainstorm' about an idea or 'brainstorm' about a project that you are working on. 'To brainstorm' is a great expression used by everyone. It simply means you get together in a group, and you think about how to solve a problem. 'Let's brainstorm about this problem.' It's like a storm that has lots of activity going on. So, your brain has lots of activity while you try to solve the problem."

AA: If you have a problem with American English, let us know. Address your letters to VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA or by e-mail to

RS: Thanks again to "Slangman" David Burke. You can learn more about BIZ SPEAK and his other English teaching books on his Web site, With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.