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Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 20 Idioms and Expressions Test

Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 20 Idioms and Expressions Test

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LESSON 20 – Talking about a Brown Noser


Nearly every office has one: the brown nosier. He or she will do just about anything to win favor with the boss. Here, Tony, Karen, and Nancy complain about their local brown nosier, Mitch.

Tony: I was just in a meeting with Mitch and Bill. Mitch said to Bill, “Bill, we’re so lucky to have you as our boss. You’re such a great leader!”

Karen: He’s up to his old tricks. He was trying to earn brownie points with Bill.

Nancy: Mitch has the reputation of being a yes man and a brown noser. He’s an expert at kissing up.

Tony: Then he said to Bill, “Other people here don’t appreciate you like I do!” Talk about trying to butter up the boss!

Nancy: Yeah, and this time at our expense! He’s just out for himself.

Karen: Well, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Obviously he thinks this is the way to get ahead.

Tony: I guess it’s one way to climb the corporate ladder. But I could never look at myself in the mirror after behaving that way.

Karen: I’m not good at kissing up either. No wonder I’ve been in the same lousy position for 10 years!

When You’re Overheard…

Mitch: Hey guys. Don’t you know it’s rude to talk behind someone’s back? I just overheard your entire conversation!

Tony: Sorry, Mitch. We didn’t mean to offend you.

Mitch: Well, the walls have earsThink twice before you insult me again!

Nancy: Chill out! We were tailing about a different Mitch, not you.

Tony: That’s right. We were taking about Mitch Schneider, over in the accounting department.

Mitch: Likely storyI wasn’t born yesterday!


  • up to one’s old tricks

 repeating the same behavior as before (usually annoying, dishonest, or sneaky behavior)

EXAMPLE: Our boss is up to his old tricks. This is the third time we’ve gone out to lunch and he’s forgotten his wallet back at the office.

  • brownie points

 credit for doing a good deed or for giving someone a compliment (usually a boss or teacher)

EXAMPLE: Sara scored brownie points with her boss by volunteering to organize the company’s holiday party.

ORIGIN: The junior branch of the Girl Scouts is called the Brownies. Brownies earn credit to then earn a badge by doing good deeds and tasks. When applied to adults, the meaning is sarcastic.

  • yes man

 an employee who always agrees with the boss or does whatever the boss says

EXAMPLE: Don’t expect Larry to argue with the boss. He’s a yes man.

  • brown noser

 somebody who’s always trying to win favor with those in authority, like bosses or teachers

EXAMPLE: Jim told Amanda she was the best boss he ever had? What a brown noser!

  • (to) kiss up to (someone)

 to try to win favor with someone by flattering them

EXAMPLE: Don is always kissing up to the boss. He’ll probably get promoted soon.

  • talk about

 that’s an example of…

EXAMPLE: Sharon told everybody that Carla was having an affair with her boss. Talk about spreading nasty rumors!

  • (to) butter up

 to say nice things to somebody, hoping that they’ll do something nice for you in the future; to compliment too much

EXAMPLE: Sam is trying to get promoted by buttering up his boss. His co-workers don’t like his behavior.

  • at one’s expense

 at a cost to

EXAMPLE: If you blame the project failure on us, you’ll look better, but at our expense.

NOTE: There is also the related expression “at one’s own expense,” meaning to pay the cost oneself. Example: Fred wanted the job so badly, he was willing to fly to Atlanta for the interview at his own expense.

  • out for oneself

 selfish; just concerned with oneself and one’s own success; not caring about what happens to other people

EXAMPLE: I’m not surprised that Jessica took all the credit for the success of the ad campaign. She’s just out for herself.

  • dog-eat-dog world

 a cruel and aggressive world in which people just look out for themselves

EXAMPLE: Your company fired you shortly after you had a heart attack? Well, it’s certainly a dog-eat-dog world!

ORIGIN: This expression dates back to the 1500’s. Wild dogs were observed fighting aggressively over a piece of food. The connection was made that people, like dogs, often compete aggressively to get what they want.

  • (to) get ahead

 to get promoted; to advance in one’s career

EXAMPLE: If you want to get ahead in investment banking, be prepared to work long hours!

  • (to) climb the corporate ladder

 advance in one’s career; the process of getting promoted and making it to senior management

EXAMPLE: You want to climb the corporate ladder? It helps to be productive and to look good in front of your boss.

  • (to) look at oneself in the mirror

 to face oneself

EXAMPLE: After firing so many employees, I don’t know how Beth can even look at herself in the mirror.

  • no wonder

 it’s not surprising that

EXAMPLE: No wonder Randy hasn’t been promoted in 10 years. He just sits in his office surfing the Internet all day.

  • (to) talk behind someone’s back

 to gossip about somebody; to say negative things about somebody who’s not around

EXAMPLE: Please don’t talk behind my back. If you have something to say to me, say it to my face.

  • the walls have ears

 you never know when somebody might be listening to your “private” conversation

EXAMPLE: Don’t complain about the boss while we’re in the office. Remember, the walls have ears!

  • (to) think twice

 to think more carefully before doing something in the future; to not repeat a mistake one has made

EXAMPLE: Jane didn’t even thank you for your Christmas gift? You should think twice before giving her a gift next year!

  • Chill out!

 Relax! Don’t worry!

EXAMPLE: Chill out! Your presentation to the CEO will go fine.

  • likely story

 that’s not true; I find that hard to believe

EXAMPLE: When Jim and Jenny were caught kissing each other m the conference room, they said it would never happen again. That’s a likely story!

  • I wasn’t born yesterday!

 I’m not stupid; I’m not naive

EXAMPLE: I just got an e-mail from a company promising to send me $10 million next year if I send them $10,000 now. Too bad for them I wasn’t born yesterday!

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