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Galimatias Blog

Break a leg - or how to survive a business meeting in English

Kirjoittanut: Rytkönen Claire / 25.9.2019 14:34

English idioms, just like English spelling, can be confusing. While idioms are great for giving your language more expressiveness and helping it flow more naturally, English idioms can often be illogical. By using a range of these idioms you can ensure your English is both more naturalistic and expressive. So, some care needs to be taken!

English idioms

Why are idioms important?

Idioms rarely directly translate

One reason is that, unfortunately, if you type these idioms into translation applications you will receive only a literal translation  -   ”a dog’s breakfast” = koiran aamiainen,  ”break a leg” = törmäät jalkaasi.
Thus it is crucial to understand how an idiom is used correctly. One way to do this is to simply google the phrase and see how it is used – Is it used to describe a victory/a mess/a cost/a reward etc.?
Or you could check from a thesuarus which will give appropriate synonyms.
An excellent free online resource is : https://www.thesaurus.com

Idioms are used very frequently in English – including in high style and formal texts.

While rarely used in legal or administrative documents, idioms are common in high level reports in areas such as finance, business, the media, and marketing.
For example The Financial Times is full of idioms. Even a very dry text about currency trends is full of idioms such as ” The US Federal Reserve will be able to make hay”, or, ” Poland is not out of the woods” or,  ” The Hong Kong Dollar has scraped the barrel.” Idioms are everywhere and often specifically used to liven up dry or technical texts.

Idioms over time often become standard vocabulary

For example the financial term ”a bailout”. What began as a boating term (a bail = äyskäri) meaning to bail out a boat, removing water to stop it sinking, was later used as an idiom meaning to rescue a financial institution. This idiomatic use became so common that a ”bailout” is now a recognised financial term. Hence idioms are often at the forefront of language change. Keeping up-to-date with idioms will help you recognise the new words of the future.

Idiom use in business meetings
In business meetings idioms express the idea that the meeting itself is a journey, the agenda is the map, and the chair is the guide. Thus the agenda “ covers points/items” and participants must “stick to the agenda”.
The meeting will “move on /forward from” various points or “return to point 5”. The meeting “may overrun” by going beyond its time slot. The chair will “lead them through the points”, “open up possible options”, and summarize “the ground covered” and” note the action points” while “pressed for time”.

Useful sample expressions might include:

Can we turn to the issue of …
Are we overrunning?
Can we return to the point regarding …
Moving on from that point…
Can we return to that issue at a later date…
We are pressed for time…
We have covered all the ground/issues we wanted to
So, our action points are …

Common idioms used in meetings often refer to hands such as:

Idiom Meaning

Our hands are tied

We are unable to act

He is a great supervisor and has been very hands-on

He is very actively and practically involved

Let´s have a show of hands

Let´s vote by raising our hands

So we can leave that issue in your hands...

So you can take care of that issue

Other common idioms are:

Idiom Meaning

What is the sticking point?

What is the issue that cannot be agreed?

The negotiations are deadlocked

The negotiations are not progressing as no-one is prepared to compromise

To sit on the fence

To refuse to give an opinion


One other point to note about the idiomatic language used in business meetings is that the general tone is positive. Diplomatic phrasing is used to approve and disapprove of proposals.

Some of the most common are:

Negative description Neutral description Positive description
problematic interesting productive
detrimental possible valuable
challenging   feasible
non-viable   beneficial
time consuming   viable


If you wish to learn more about idioms or other aspects of Business English please watch our short video about how to avoid troublesome mistakes in business English or contact us for more information.

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Aiheet: English, englanti, English idioms, sujuva viestintä, idioms, englannin sanonnat, meetings in English, englanninkieliset kokoukset

Rytkönen Claire

Kirjoittajana Rytkönen Claire

English language professional, Head of English at Galimatias


Galimatias on vuonna 1996 perustettu valmennusyritys, joka tarjoaa palveluja yrityksille, organisaatioille ja julkishallinnolle.

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