Idioms, Business Jargon and Sayings from Around the World
Read Time: 8 Minutes

Idioms, Business Jargon and Sayings from Around the World

09 Sep, 2021 Read Time: 8 Minutes
Published by
Sam Hemmings
Content Executive
Inspire Inform Ignite

There’s no argument about it. Idioms are bizarre. If you’ve ever been told to “think outside the box” or to “grab the bull by the horns”, then you’ll have heard an idiom — phrases with a meaning that differ from the true definition of the words.

Many of us have come across plenty of idioms in the workplace. Idioms are some of the most common business sayings in the nine-to-five day. But where do they come from? And what do they mean? Just like buzzwords and business jargon, idioms aren’t always our favourite things to read or hear. Many might make you laugh, while others will be as clear as mud. And some are just irritating.

At Jellyfish, our teams stretch across the globe, from London to Dubai to Tokyo. So, in a bid to demystify well-known idioms and other popular sayings, we crowdsourced from our large pool of talented staff to learn the most common expressions heard in the workplace. If you’ve ever wondered what it means if the soup costs more than the meatballs, read on to find out.

English idioms and business phrases

The English language is fascinating. Just look at its unique spelling rules and odd grammar usage. As for English idioms, business jargon and other weird sayings in the workplace, we’re all guilty of using these in our everyday language, whether in an email to our team or in conversation.

A great thing about the English language is there are so many ways to express yourself. Many of us use corporate jargon or cultural expressions, but saying exactly what you mean can be a good thing, too — especially if your global teams aren’t familiar with your unique lingo.

Let’s dive into our favourite and somewhat baffling British idioms and expressions heard around the office.

Low-hanging fruit

Low hanging fruit

Similar to “easy pickings”, the phrase “low-hanging fruit” is a common expression that refers to easy tasks that don’t involve much effort. For example, you could say, “the team is going after quick wins and low-hanging fruit”.

In the literal sense, this idiom refers to fruit that hangs low and is easy to reach. Picking low-hanging fruit is a simple task, and it's usually the first one you try. The expression first appeared in print in the Guardian newspaper in 1968. The phrase gained traction over the next few decades, eventually becoming popular in a business context by the millennium.

Singing from the same hymn sheet

singing from the same hymn sheet

In corporate lingo, “singing from the same hymn sheet” means that you have the same understanding on a matter as someone else, especially if that shared understanding is made public. This is similar to the phrase “we are all on the same page”. And even though it’s a popular idiom in Britain, it might not resonate with clients or colleagues outside the UK. So it might be safer to avoid this phrase altogether and keep communications clear.

It's on my radar

It's on my radar

You've probably heard the phrase "it's on my radar" plenty of times in the workplace.

This phrase dates back to World War II when radar detected enemy bomber planes. Because of radio wave interference with the ground, planes flew low to avoid radar detection. Later, the expression “to fly under the radar” made its way into everyday chat and is still used today to describe something that goes unnoticed.

Over time, variations of the phrase became popular, including “it’s on my radar”, which means that you’re aware of something or you intend to deal with a matter. For instance, you could say, “the marketing report has been on my radar for a long time”.

In a pickle

In a pickle

If you’re in a pickle, you’d be referring to the difficult situation you’re in. We all know if something is pickled, it means it's been preserved in vinegar. So how do we explain the origins of this idiom?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, one of the first written uses of "pickle" in an expression was seen in John Heywood's 1562 Proverbs and Epigrams. Later, in the early 1600s, the phrase “to be pickled” appeared in Shakespeare’s The Tempest . The character Trinculo drinks a barrel of wine after washing up on an island and is later asked by King Alonso, “How did you get in this pickle?”. In this context, “in a pickle” describes Trinculo's drunken state.

The phrase picked up steam over the years and, somewhere along the way, evolved into what we now know it as. For example, you might say "I'm in quite a pickle with these client accounts." Likewise, you might also want to say, “I’m pickled” to mean you’ve drunk too much alcohol.

Idioms and expressions from the rest of the world

Idioms and business jargon can crop up worldwide — not just in the English language. Thanks to our international teams, we’ve been introduced to a number of funny and strange expressions.

We’ve rounded up some of the best weird sayings heard by our colleagues around the globe below.

An idle priest baptizes goats - Besposlen pop i jariće krsti (Croatian)

An idle priest baptizes goats - Besposlen pop i jariće krsti (Croatian)

The translation of this Croatian idiom is “an idle priest baptizes goats” and means without any significant responsibilities, you'll find yourself busy with useless or unimportant work.

This is similar to the English idiom “the Devil finds work for idle hands”, which means if someone doesn’t have anything to do with their time, they are more likely to get in trouble.

Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve - Nu komt de aap uit de mouw (Dutch)

Now the monkey comes out of the sleeve - Nu komt de aap uit de mouw (Dutch)

Similar to the English idiom “let the cat out of the bag”, this Dutch saying “now the monkey comes out of the sleeve” means to reveal the truth about someone or a situation.

This Dutch expression dates back to when street artists hid a monkey in their coats as part of their performance. The monkey then appeared at the end of the show, revealing the trick.

The eye crosses the full river - Iso liwela umfula ugcwele (isiZulu)

The eye crosses the full river

The isiZulu expression “iso liwela umfula ugcwele” translates to “the eye crosses the full river”. This saying means if you have the desire to do something, you can’t be stopped.

Having a head off - Mieć urwanie głowy (Polish)

Having a head off - Mieć urwanie głowy (Polish)

The translation of this Polish idiom “mieć urwanie głowy” is “to have my head off the hook” or “having a head off”. It’s used to say that you’re rushed off your feet or swamped with work.

To feed jam to pigs - Donner de la confiture aux cochons (French)

To feed jam to pigs - Donner de la confiture aux cochons (French)

This French idiom “donner de la confiture aux cochons” translates to “giving jam to pigs”. It means to give something of value to someone who doesn’t know its true value or worth.

Don't shake the chicken - Moenie die hoender ruk nie (Afrikaans)

Don't shake the chicken - Moenie die hoender ruk nie (Afrikaans)

This Afrikaan idiom “moenie die hoender ruk nie” literally translates to “don’t shake the chicken”, which means “don’t overdo it”.

This is papaya with sugar - Isso é mamão com açúcar (Portuguese)

This is papaya with sugar - Isso é mamão com açúcar (Portuguese)

The Portuguese saying “isso é mamão com açúcar” translates to “this is papaya with sugar”. This expression is used to describe easy tasks. The English equivalent would be “as easy as pie” or “a piece of cake”.

To adorn yourself with borrowed plumes - Sich mit fremden federn schmücken (German)

To adorn yourself with borrowed plumes - Sich mit fremden Federn schmücken (German)

The German phrase “sich mit fremden Federn schmücken” means “to adorn yourself with borrowed plumes” and implies that you’ve taken credit for someone else’s work.

The camel can't see its own hump - הגמל לא רואה את הדבשת של עצמו (Hebrew)

The camel can't see its own hump - הגמל לא רואה את הדבשת של עצמו (Hebrew)

This Hebrew expression “הגמל לא רואה את הדבשת של עצמו” translates to “the camel can’t see its own hump” and means we can see the faults in others, but not our own.

The soup is more expensive than the meatballs - Sale más caro el caldo que las albóndigas (Spanish)

The soup is more expensive than the meatballs - Sale más caro el caldo que las albóndigas (Spanish)

The Spanish idiom “sale más caro el caldo que las albóndigas” translates to “the soup costs more than the meatballs”. This expression refers to a remedy that costs more than the problem.

The ultimate list of great idioms from around the world

If, like us, you’re interested in even more expressions and weird sayings, see our full list of idioms gathered from our colleagues around the world below.

English idioms

"Think outside the box"

Meaning - To not be constrained by typical thinking/solutions

"Blue sky thinking"

Meaning - To think creatively without limits

"Touch base offline"

Meaning - To catch up outside of the present call/meeting

"Keeping one's nose to the grindstone"

Meaning - Doing hard and/or continuous work

French idioms

"Revenons à nos moutons"

English Translation - Let’s come back to our sheep

Meaning - To go back to the original topic of conversation

"ça ne casse pas trois pattes à un canard"

English Translation - It does not break three legs on a duck

Meaning - To be very common, to have nothing extraordinary, to be at the limit of mediocrity

"Donner sa langue au chat"

English Translation - To give one's tongue to the cat

Meaning - To admit that we do not have the answer

"Jeter bébé avec l'eau du bain"

English Translation - Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

Meaning - To lose sight of what is essential; to get rid of something that is important

"C'est pas la mer à boire"

English Translation - It's not like drinking the sea

Meaning - It's nothing troublesome

"Pas vu, pas pris"

English Translation - Not seen, not taken

Meaning - If not one discovers it, no one can blame you for it

"Avoir un poil dans la main"

English Translation - Having a hair in the hand

Meaning - To be lazy

"Retrouver ses petits/Retomber sur ses pattes"

English Translation - To find back your little ones/Fall back on your feet

Meaning - When you manage to find your way back where you need to be

"Avoir d'autres chats à fouetter"

English Translation - To have other cats to whip

Meaning - To have something else (more important) to do

"Ne pas avoir gardé les cochons ensemble"

English Translation - Did not keep the pigs together

Meaning - When someone becomes too chatty, too informal

"Tu me cours sur le haricot"

English Translation - You run me over the bean

Meaning - You're starting to annoy me

"Se mettre sur son trente et un"

English Translation - To get in its 31

Meaning - To get dressed up

"Décrocher la lune"

English Translation - To get the moon

Meaning - To get the impossible

"Poser un lapin"

English Translation -To put a rabbit

Meaning - To stand someone up

"Il fait un froid de canard"

English Translation - It's duck cold

Meaning - It's freezing cold

"Refiler la patate chaude"

English Translation - To give away the hot potato

Meaning - When you manage to part with a complicated situation by giving it to someone else

German idioms

"Ich verstehe nur bahnhof"

English Translation - I only understand trainstation

Meaning - I understand nothing

"Jemand einen bären aufbinden"

English Translation - To tie a bear on somebody

Meaning - To lie to or mislead somebody

"Das passt wie die faust aufs auge"

English Translation - That fits like a fist to the eye

Meaning - That fits perfectly

"Es ist zum mäusemelken"

English Translation - It's to milk mice

Meaning - It is to despair

"Jetzt haben wir den salat"

English Translation - Now we have the salad

Meaning - Now we are in a mess

"Ein wolkenschloss bauen"

English Translation - Build a cloud castle

Meaning - Dream up lovely but unrealistic plans

Idioms in Afrikaans

"So 'n bek moet jem kry"

English Translation - Such a mouth should get jam

Meaning - When someone says something which is true or is very witty and sharp

"Wors in die hondestal soek"

English Translation - Searching for sausage in the dog stable

Meaning - When you're looking for something you won't find

Idioms in Hebrew

"אתה חי בסרט"

English Translation - You're living in a movie

Meaning - You're being very unrealistic about things

"לקפוץ מעל הפופיק"

English Translation - To jump above the bellybutton

Meaning - Doing the impossible/something beyond your abilities

"קשה יש רק בלחם"

English Translation - The crust exists only in bread

Meaning - Nothing is too hard to do

"מה אני, עז?"

English Translation - What am I, a goat?

Meaning - Have you forgotten about me

"אכלת אותה "

English Translation - You ate it

Meaning - You're in trouble now

"חבל על הזמן"

English Translation - It's a shame about time

Meaning - So bad it's a waste of time to think about it\so good it's amazing

"להגדיל ראש"

English Translation - Enlarge your head

Meaning - To go above and beyond (positively)

"פצצות לגבות"

English Translation - Missiles to the eyebrows

Meaning - Something that's so good you get blown away

"סוף הדרך"

English Translation - End of the road

Meaning - Something is really cool/good

"על הפנים"

English Translation - On the face

Meaning - This is really bad/I feel really bad

"לקפוץ מעל הפופיק"

English Translation - Small on me

Meaning - It's going to be easy to do this, no problem

isiZulu idioms

"Unebhungan’ ekanda"

English Translation - He has a beetle in his head

Meaning - This refers to someone who has a weird character

Malay idioms

"Yang secupak takkan jadi segantang"

English Translation - That little bit won't be as tight

Meaning - One has to accept the current situation and work based on what is at hand

Portuguese idioms

"É nóis"

English Translation - It's us

Meaning - When people are proud to have done something together

Spanish idioms

"Buscarle tres pies al gato"

English Translation - To look for the three feet in a cat

Meaning - Make something more difficult than it needs be

"No tiene ni pies ni cabeza"

English Translation - It has no feet and no head

Meaning - It makes no sense

"Al ojo por ciento"

English Translation - To the eye percent

Meaning - When you're winging things, measuring by eye, no tools

"La culebra se mata por la cabeza"

English Translation - You kill a snake by the head

Meaning - Problems/challenges should be dealt with directly

"Como cucaracha en baile de gallinas"

English Translation - Like a cockroach at a chicken ball (dance)

Meaning - When a person is fully out of place

"Al mal paso darle prisa"

English Translation - When in bad steps don't delay

Meaning - To hurry a task that is or may be going wrong

"Según el sapo es la pedrada"

English Translation - When the frog is the size of the rock

Meaning - To assess our own forces depending on the task or situation given

About Jellyfish Training

What are your favourite expressions and business idioms? Share your thoughts in the comments.

We like to write about a variety of topics at Jellyfish Training. So, if you enjoyed this article, we think you'd also like reading about collective nouns from the English language.

Since 2014, Jellyfish Training has provided world-leading training courses led by in-house industry experts. We are dedicated to empowering professionals and businesses to achieve greater success - from SEO and digital marketing, to Cloud technology and cyber security, find out more about our range of over 120 digital classroom and online training courses.

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