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July 9, 2000 - Slangman: Business Animals - 2002-02-12

INTRO: This week on Wordmaster, Avi Arditti meets some of the menagerie in the dog-eat-dog world of business.

MUSIC: "Too Much Monkey Business"/Chuck Berry

TEXT: When you hear of "monkey business," rarely are actual monkeys involved. "Monkey business" is slang for fun and games, but also for dishonesty. It's a jungle out there, all right, with enough animal-related business slang to fill a zoo.

Rosanne Skirble is on vacation, taking a break from the rat race. Before she left, we spoke with Slangman, author David Burke in Los Angeles. We could have talked about bull markets, which go up, or bear markets, which go down. But we started by talking turkey.


BURKE: "In business, the business of movies, if a movie is really bad, we might say `this is a real turkey.' That's a real common one in the entertainment business, to be a turkey, as opposed to `talking turkey' meaning let's talk about the subject we're focusing on right now and not get off the subject."

RS: "The turkey isn't the only one that we use with business terms. Give us some other examples."

BURKE: "Now somebody who arrives to work early, they're called `an early bird,' because there's an expression: `the early bird gets the worm' - that's actually a proverb - which means, the person who gets up early and starts his or her day first, gets the most accomplished. OK, and in business, let's say you're very - you've calculated your business day very carefully, you have all of your ducks in a row. That means you're very well organized. Somebody who's not organized would not be said to have his or her ducks in a row."

AA: And if your employer finds out that you're disorganized, you're liable to get chewed out by the "top dog."


BURKE: "A `top dog' is the person in control, the commander-in-chief, the boss. That's the top dog."

AA: One of the traits that's likely to help a business person become top dog is the ability to "outfox" a competitor.


BURKE: "A fox is considered clever and cunning, because when a fox is ready to get its victim, or prey, it's very clever about it, it will move slowly around the victim - the victim doesn't know it's there - then all of a sudden it jumps, it pounces. So we call that either to be `as sly as a fox' or to outfox somebody. That means to trick somebody."

AA: Invoking the imagery of a fox might also be considered flattering -- only, make sure you know just what you're saying:


BURKE: "Because if you were to say someone is foxy, it has two connotations actually."

RS: "Sexy."

BURKE: "Right, it can be sexy: `That person is foxy [fox-ee],' and you might even say it like that, stressing the `-ee" part. But if you were to say, `I'll tell you, these other clients are really foxy, you got to be careful.' And we also say `what a fox!' `What a fox' is always good, always sexy."

AA: But let's say that fox turns out to be a rat:


"There are a lot of interesting expressions around rat that we use in business. To be a `dirty rat' means somebody who informed on you. `He ratted on me, he went to the boss and ratted on me because I arrived 10 minutes late to work, what a rat."

RS: "What about the expression `pouring money down a rat hole?"

BURKE: "I'm glad you asked that one, Rosanne. Anything that goes into a rat hole is lost forever. You're never going to see it, because rats are known as these eating monsters. So in a business venture, if you invest your money in something that will never pay off, your partner may say to you, `You just threw your money down a rat hole, why did you do something so stupid?' - that means you'll never see that money again."

AA: You might have fallen victim to a "shark" or a "snake" -- two other terms commonly used to describe unscrupulous business people. It's hard to think of any animal slang for virtuous business people. But let's say you mean well, and try to engage your boss in some friendly conversation. You have to be careful what you say, lest you open up a "can of worms."


"That is opening up a situation that you should not have started talking about because it's so embarrassing. For example, let's say you were to say, `I saw your wife yesterday and she was walking down the street with a gentleman. Is that your brother?' And maybe it's not his brother, it may be someone she's seeing on the side. So we would say, `Uh-oh, you just opened up a can of worms,' meaning you just opened up a topic that's very sensitive."

AA: Of course, the boss's wife could just be a party animal ...

If you're on the Internet, David Burke invites you to check out his "Slangman" books, at With this week's Wordmaster, I'm Avi Arditti.

MUSIC: "Talk to the Animals"/Sammy Davis Jr.