Workplace Idioms

Sometimes in the workplace, we may want to use some informal language to encourage a more friendly relationship with peers and colleagues. It is, however, not appropriate to memorize words in an idioms dictionary and use an idiom each time you say something in the office. Many of those idioms may not be commonly used at all. However, it is important to understand them if other people use them.

Here are some rather commonly used idioms and example to go with each.

the green light My supervisor has read my proposal. Now I have the green light to start the project.
(Like a green traffic light, which gives permission to start.)
in black and white The boss said we’ll have a raise next year, but I don’t know whether to believe her or not. If only it were in black and white!
(Writing is black and white, if you have something in writing it's like a contract.)
in the red The company’s in the red. It’s got a lot of debt and is having difficulty covering its expenses.
(Red ink was traditionally used to show negative numbers in accounts.)
out of the blue The news of that fast-food shop closing came out of the blue. No one was expecting it. We all thought it was doing well.
(Like something falling from the blue sky.)
fishy When the boss saw two almost identical proposals, he immediately suspected that something fishy was going on.
(Old fish smell bad. Fishy is a smell.)
to go bananas The Administrative Assistant went bananas when she realized she still had so much to prepare for this afternoon’s video-conferencing.
(Went bananas means went crazy.)
a big mouth Be careful with Tommy in the next department. Don’t tell him anything. He’s got such a big mouth. As soon as you tell him something, it’s all round the office.
(A big mouth means someone who talks too much and tells secrets.)
to cost an arm and a leg I’m not coming with you to Lane Crawford. Everything there costs an arm and a leg. With my kind of salary, I can’t afford to buy anything there.
(Costs an arm and a leg means it's very expensive.)
to have a sweet tooth I know you have a sweet tooth, so I bought you some Godiva chocolates for your birthday.
(To have a sweet tooth means to like to eat sweet things.)
head over heels in love Wing and Tony are head over heels in love. They’re planning to get married.
(Head over heels means totally.  Only used about love.)
a long face You didn’t invite Lizzy to your wedding? No wonder she walked out with such a long face.
(A long face means an unhappy expression.)
a pain in the neck Analysing statistics is a pain in the neck. It always gets me frustrated.
(A pain in the neck is something troublesome.)
to see eye to eye I’ll have a very long meeting today. Those two managers never see eye to eye on anything. It doesn’t matter what they discuss, they always argue.
(See eye-to-eye means to agree.)
down-to-earth I like to go to Alex for advice. He’s down-to-earth and his advice is usually very valuable.
(Down to earth means sensible.)
once in a blue moon The company Director hardly ever comes in to the office, only once in a blue moon.
(Once in a blue moon means very rarely, as the moon is rarely blue.)
to keep the ball rolling Let’s keep the ball rolling. We’re off to a good start with a successful bid, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
(A football idiom - to get[start] the ball rolling means to start the match. To keep the ball rolling means to continue working.)
on the ball Lam’s an excellent supervisor. She really knows how to organize things and get things done. She’s really on the ball.
(Another football idiom. On the ball means to be in control of the situation.)



Last updated on: Monday, March 26, 2012