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Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 17 Idioms and Expressions Test

Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 17 Idioms and Expressions Test

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LESSON 17 – Telling Somebody Off


Doug and Joe work at the reception desk of the Boston Empire Hotel, a large hotel. Kara, the hotel manager, yells at Doug for being late to work every day.

Doug: Good morning, guys. How’s it going?

Joe: Lousy. You were supposed to be here at 8 a.m. It’s now 11 o’clock. What’s the deal?

Doug: Sorry about that. My alarm didn’t go off this morning.

Kara: You’ve been late every day this week!

Doug: I had a rough night last night. My girlfriend Liz dumped me and told me she’s in love with my best friend!

Kara: Oh please, spare us the sob story!

Joe: I’m sick and tired of your excuses. You need to start pulling your weight around here.

Doug: Hey, cut me some slack! My life’s a mess right now.

Kara: Doug, I’m trying to run a tight ship. I can’t continue turning a blind eye to the fact that you’re always late. Shape up or ship out!

Doug: I promise tomorrow I’ll be here at 8 a.m. on the dot.

The Next Day…

Doug: Sorry, I’m running behind. I had to…

Kara: Don’t waste-your breath! You’re three hours late again

Doug: But my car wouldn’t start, my mechanic is on vacation in Florida, and then I…

Kara: Today was the last straw. You’re fired!

Doug: That’s fine. I was miserable working for a slave driver like you anyway!

Kara: Don’t burn your bridges. You may need me later as a reference.

* To “tell somebody off” is to criticize them or yell at them for doing something wrong.


  • What’s the deal?

 What’s going on? What happened? What’s the explanation?

EXAMPLE: We received 5,000 mailing envelopes from your company, and you sent us an invoice for 50,000. What’s the deal?

  • (to) have a rough night

 to have a difficult evening or night

EXAMPLE: You look exhausted this morning. Did you have a rough night?

  • (to) dump someone

 to end a romantic relationship

EXAMPLE: Walter Jenkins, the CEO of a real estate firm, dumped his wife of 40 years and married his young assistant.

  • spare us (or me) the sob story

 don’t bother making excuses; don’t try to explain yourself

EXAMPLE: You can’t finish your work tonight because you’ve got a toothache? Spare me the sob story!

NOTE: “Sob” means cry.

  • sick and tired of

 completely bored with; sick of; fed up with

EXAMPLE: Jane is sick and tired of hearing her boss talk about how great he is. She’s hoping to find a new job soon.

  • (to) pull one’s weight

 to do one’s share of the work

EXAMPLE: Don’t rely on others to get your job done. You need to pull your own weight.

NOTE: You will also hear the variation: to pull one’s own weight.

  • (to) cut someone some slack

 to be forgiving; to not judge someone too harshly

EXAMPLE: Cut Gretchen some slack for failing to finish the report on time. She’s going through a bitter divorce.

  • (to) run a tight ship

 to run something effectively and efficiently

EXAMPLE: Jack Welch is known as one of the greatest business leaders ever. He ran a tight ship while he was the CEO of General Electric.

  • (to) turn a blind eye to something

 to ignore a problem or an issue; to refuse to recognize

EXAMPLE: Every September when the school year starts, pens and paper disappear from our company’s supply room. We can no longer turn a blind eye to this.

  • Shape up or ship out!

 improve your behavior or leave; if you don’t improve your performance, you’re going to get fired

EXAMPLE: Martin finally had enough of Todd’s negative attitude. “Shape up or ship out!” he told Todd.

ORIGIN: This expression was first used in the U.S. military during World War Two, meaning: you’d better follow regulations and behave yourself (“shape up”), or you’re going to be sent overseas to a war zone (“ship out”).

  • on the dot

 sharp; at an exact time

EXAMPLE: The videoconference with our Tokyo office will start at 10 a.m. on the dot.

  • (to be) running behind

 to be late; to be delayed

EXAMPLE: I’m calling to say I’m running behind. I’ll be at your office in 15 minutes.

SYNONYM: running late

  • don’t waste your breath

 don’t bother; don’t bother trying to defend yourself; I don’t want to hear your excuses

EXAMPLE: Don’t waste your breath trying to talk me into buying an advertisement in your magazine. I’ve already spent my advertising budget for the year.

  • (the) last straw

 the final offense or annoyance that pushes one to take action

EXAMPLE:  First you tell me 1 can’t have an office and now you’re cutting my salary. This is the last straw. I quit!

ORIGIN: This saying comes from another expression that you may also hear: the straw that broke the camel’s back. When you load up a camel straw by straw, each individual straw doesn’t weigh much. However, eventually, the load will get so heavy that one extra straw will break the camel’s back. In the same way, people can tolerate small annoyances. But when there get to be too many, people finally get fed up and take action.

  • slave driver

 a very demanding and often cruel boss or supervisor

EXAMPLE: You’re going to be working late hours as an assistant brand manager in Linda’s group. She’s a real slave driver!

ORIGIN: In the days of slavery, the slave driver was the person who oversaw the slaves as they worked.

  • (to) burn one’s bridges

 to do something which makes it impossible to go back; to damage a relationship to such an extent that one can never go back to that person again

EXAMPLE: When he was fired, Chad really felt like telling Lisa that she was a terrible manager, but he didn’t want to burn his bridges.

ORIGIN: This expression comes from the military. Soldiers dating back to the days of the Roman Empire used to burn the bridges behind them. This meant the Roman troops couldn’t retreat; they had to keep moving forward. It also made it more difficult for the enemy to follow them.

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