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Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 27 Idioms and Expressions Test

Speak Business English Like an American Lesson 27 Idioms and Expressions Test

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LESSON 27 – Firing Somebody


Kurt has the difficult task of firing Dan. Dan s been with the company since the beginning and is a friend of Kurt s. Dan is surprised and upset with the news.

Kurt: Dan, your work has slipped. You’ve been here for 15 years, and I think you’re just burned out.

Dan: What are you talking about? I’m at the top of my game. I just managed our biggest project in years.

Kurt: You can’t take credit for that. You didn’t lift a finger on that project. You were on vacation in Hawaii for three weeks while Steve and Sally were doing all the work.

Dan: I’m not good at reading between the lines. Please just cut to the chase. What are you trying to say?

Kurt: Dan, Swift Shoes is downsizing. This is really difficult, but we’re going to have to let you go.

Dan: What? I helped build this company from the ground up! You can’t fire me now.

Kurt: I don’t want to, but my hands are tied. Our president has told me to reduce headcount by 50 percent.

Dan: I thought you and I were friends, but when push comes to shove, I guess our friendship isn’t worth anything.

Kurt: Of course we’re still friends, but business is business.

Dan: I don’t agree with that. I would never fire a friend….after all those times Kathleen and I invited you and Donna to dinner at our home!

Kurt: Dan, I want you to leave Swift Shoes on friendly terms. No hard feelings. To soften the blow, we’re going to give you a generous severance package.


  • one’s work has slipped

 one’s performance has gotten worse; one is not doing one’s job properly

EXAMPLE: What’s going on with Jeremy? He used to be very good at his job, but recently his work has slipped.

  • (to be) burned out

 to be extremely tired; to lose effectiveness because of doing a job for too long

EXAMPLE: After working 80-hour weeks at the investment bank for many years, Jim was burned out.

  • (to be) at the top of one’s game

 to be performing at the top of one’s abilities; to be performing very well

EXAMPLE: Last year, Ethan brought in over $5 million in new business to the agency. He’s at the top of his game.

  • (to) take credit for something

 to claim recognition for something

EXAMPLE: Joan came up with the idea of selling the company’s products at Costco, but her boss took the credit for it.

  • (to) not lift a finger

 to not help at all; to do nothing

EXAMPLE: While everybody else was working hard to finish the project, Tim was chatting with his friend and didn’t lift a finger.

  • (to) read between the lines

 to understand unclear or indirect communication; to interpret something from hints or suggestions

EXAMPLE: Your boss told you to take a very long vacation? Read between the lines: he’s suggesting you leave the company!

ORIGIN: This expression comes from the days when people would send secret messages. When treated with a special substance like lemon juice, a secret message would appear between the lines of an ordinary looking letter. Therefore, when told to “read between the lines,” you should look for the hidden meaning.

  • (to) cut to the chase

 to get to the point; to tell the most important part of the story

EXAMPLE: I don’t have time to listen to a long explanation of why you didn’t finish this project on time. Please cut to the chase.

ORIGIN: In action films, the “chase” refers to most exciting part, when the drama is at a high point. Some people may want the movie to get to this exciting part (in other words, cut to it) as soon as possible.

  • (to) let someone go

 to fire someone

EXAMPLE: Mepstein Industries let their accountant go after he made a major mistake calculating the company’s tax bill.

  • (to) build something from the ground up

 to develop a company, a business, or a department from its beginnings; to build a successful operation from scratch

EXAMPLE: Autumn Moon Vineyards doesn’t yet have a marketing department. They’re going to have to build one from the ground up.

  • my hands are tied

 there’s nothing I can do; I’m stuck; I have no alternatives

EXAMPLE: I don’t approve of the direction my company is moving in, but my boss doesn’t want to listen to my opinion. My hands are tied.

  • (to) reduce headcount

 to lay off or fire workers

EXAMPLE: When Lucent’s business was in trouble, they announced they would reduce headcount by at least 10,000 employees.

NOTE: “Headcount” is the number of people who work at an organization. Many companies do not like to say that they are “laying people off’ as it can sound cold and insensitive. After all, people are involved. “Reducing headcount” gets around this problem. It sounds less personal and more scientific.

SYNONYM: to downsize

  • when push comes to shove

 when really tested; when it really counts; when there’s no more time left to hesitate or think about what action to take

EXAMPLE: Many people say they are worried about the environment, but when push comes to shove, how many people are willing to pay extra for environmentally-friendly products?

SYNONYM: when you come right down to it

  • no hard feelings

 no anger; no bitterness

EXAMPLE: Even though Hewlett-Packard didn’t give Derek a job offer, he has no hard feelings towards them.

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