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Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 2 Idioms and Expressions Test

Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 2 Idioms and Expressions Test

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LESSON 2 – Talking about Financial Issues


Juan and Diane work in the finance department of Delicious Delights, a company that makes snack foods. Here, they’re discussing the financial projections for a new product line.

Juan: I’m really excited about the launch of our new line of fat free Delicious Delight donuts.

Diane: Me too. But before we go any further, we’d better make sure this product line is going to be profitable.

Juan: I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations. Take a look.

Diane: I see you’ve estimated $2 million for the new equipment. Where did you get that figure?

Juan: That’s an educated guess based on some equipment I bought last year.

Diane: You’re going to need to double-check that. Using old estimates can get us in hot water.

Juan: No problem. I’ll get on the phone with the manufacturer in Dallas and get & price quote.

Diane: Do you have a sense for market demand? We should get the forecasts from the marketing department before we crunch the numbers.

Juan: We don’t have those yet. Mary from marketing said maybe we’d have them next week.

Diane: It just blows my mind when marketing people want us to run numbers, and they don’t bring us the information we need!

Juan: If we end up in the red on this project, it’s going to be their heads on the chopping block, not ours. They’re the ones with P&L* responsibility!

Diane: Our CFO* won’t give this project the green light until he sees all the numbers. If it doesn’t look like we’ll make money or at least break even, he’ll pull the plug on the project.

*P&L – profit & loss. Those with P&L responsibility are in charge of making sure the business makes a profit. They manage the “P&L statement,” also called the “income statement.” This shows the financial results of operations over a certain time period, usually a month, a quarter, or a year.

* CFO – chief financial officer. The senior manager responsible for the financial activities of a company.


  • back-of-the-envelope calculations

 quick calculations; estimates using approximate numbers, instead of exact numbers

EXAMPLE: I don’t need the exact numbers right now. Just give me some back-of-the-envelope calculations.

NOTE: This expression refers to the quick calculations one would do informally, as on the back of an envelope.

  • educated guess

 a guess based on experience; a piece of information based on prior knowledge, not hard facts or data

EXAMPLE: I’d say there are about a million potential consumers for your new line of cosmetics, but that’s just an educated guess.

  • in hot water

 in trouble

EXAMPLE: Ian was in hot water with the government after he was caught making illegal copies of software.

  • (to) crunch the numbers

 to perform financial calculations

EXAMPLE: Reed Corporation is thinking about buying a small company. First, they’ll need to crunch the numbers and see if their acquisition will be profitable.

NOTE: You will also see the noun form of this expression, “number cruncher,” used to describe somebody who makes a lot of financial calculations as part of his or her job.

  • (it or that) blows my mind

 it bothers me; it really surprises me; it amazes me

EXAMPLE: It blows my mind that our company is trying to save money by taking away our free coffee service.

  • (to) run (the) numbers

 to perform financial calculations

EXAMPLE: Should we lease or buy the equipment? We’ll need to run the numbers to help us make the decision.

  • in the red

 losing money; when expenses are greater than revenues

EXAMPLE: We need to do something to start making profits. If we’re in the red for one more quarter, we’re going to go out of business.

NOTE: This expression comes from the accounting practice of marking debits (subtractions to the account) in red and credits (additions to the account) in black. The opposite of “in the red” is “in the black,” meaning profitable.

  • one’s head is on the chopping block

 in a position where one is likely to be fired or get in trouble

EXAMPLE: After Earthy Foods released a frozen dinner that made many consumers sick, their CEO’s head was on the chopping block.

NOTE: A chopping block is a piece of wood on which food or wood is chopped. Having your head” on the block would suggest that it is going to be cut off. Fortunately, the meaning here is not literal. If your head is on the chopping block, you might lose your job, but at least you’ll still have your head!

  • (to) give somebody the green light

 to give permission to move forward with a project

EXAMPLE: Super Software’s Moscow office has developed its own regional advertising campaign. They hope that headquarters in California will give them the green light to proceed with the campaign.

  • (to) break even

 to make neither a profit or a loss; the point at which revenues equal costs

EXAMPLE: You broke even during your first year in business? That’s good since most companies lose money during their first year.

  • (to) pull the plug

 to put a stop to a project or initiative, usually because it’s not going well; to stop something from moving forward; to discontinue

EXAMPLE: After losing millions of dollars drilling for oil in Nebraska and finding nothing, the oil company finally pulled the plug on its exploration project.

ORIGIN: This expression refers to removing a plug to make something stop working — when you pull the plug out of the wall, your appliance doesn’t work. In the 19th century, when this term originated, the plug was for a toilet. To flush the toilet, you had to pull out a plug.

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