There’s English, and then there’s “office English.” If you are a native of another country who is working in the U.S., you have probably heard plenty of unfamiliar English words and phrases, even if you have studied English for many years.

That’s because office English isn’t usually taught in the classroom. It may make you feel better to learn that a lot of your native speaker colleagues probably don’t like office English, either. The fact remains, though, that office English is spoken every day at U.S. workplaces. And that means you have to be familiar with it to do your job effectively.

Common Office English Expressions

To make that easier, we wanted to define some of the most common words and expressions that are part of office English in the U.S.

  1. All hands on deck. Pay attention when you hear these words. It means that everyone is needed for something. Your company might also have “all hands” meetings that everyone is expected to attend.
  2. Back to the drawing board. These are words that nobody likes to hear at work. “Back to the drawing board” means this: “The options we have won’t work. Let’s develop some new ones.”
  3. Bells and whistles. “Don’t worry about all the bells and whistles” can translate to “Don’t worry about the extras and flourishes.” For example, on an MVP (see below) there aren’t a lot of bells and whistles.
  4. Brainstorming. Did you get invited to a brainstorming meeting? Expect a session where participants contribute ideas around a particular topic. The goal is often to generate as many ideas as possible.
  5. Bring to the table. If someone says “What does he bring to the table here?” what they mean is “What does he contribute? What are his strengths?”
  6. Circle back around. What does it mean when someone says they want to “circle back around with you next week”? They want to follow up with you on a topic you have been discussing.
  7. Deep dive. “Taking a deep dive” into a subject means researching it, exploring it or explaining it in depth. For example, your boss might say something like this: “Because this report needs to be a deep dive, it takes priority over your other projects.”
  8. EOB. When you see these initials, it means “explanation of benefits.” You’ll get an EOB statement from your health insurer after you receive medical treatment. (Insurance is a whole other confusing topic!)
  9. Game changer. If a new project is supposed to be a “game changer” for your company, what does that mean? A game changer is something (or someone) who creates big changes. So a “game-changing project” is one that might change the direction of your company going forward.
  10. Hit the ground running. This phrase means to take action immediately or with minimal preparation. Here are a couple of examples of how you might hear “hit the ground running” used at work:
    “We need to hit the ground running as soon as the announcement is made.”
    “This job candidate is the best one because she can hit the ground running.”
  11.  In the pipeline. What does it mean when something is “in the pipeline”? It means it is in the works or that it is part of future plans.
  12. Loop in. When you “loop in” someone, you add them to a conversation or tell them what happened in a conversation. A similar expression, “out of the loop,” means not being part of the conversation or not being aware of things other people were discussing.
  13. Low-hanging fruit. Hey, at least this piece of business jargon is visually vivid! If you hear someone say, “Let’s go after the low-hanging fruit first,” they are talking about going after what is easily attained.
  14. Move the needle. If something “moves the needle,” it creates a noticeable change or effect.
  15. MVP. This might be a confusing one! If someone tells you that you were the MVP on a project, that’s a great compliment. It means you were the “most valuable player.” This is an expression that comes from sports. In other uses, the abbreviation MVP means “minimum viable product.” This is a popular concept in startups. It means launching a product or website in a pared-down version for early adopters. Full features will be added later.
  16. On the same page. Have you ever been asked “Are we on the same page here?” The questioner might be asking:
    “Do you agree with me?”
    “Are we operating from the same set of assumptions?”
    “Do you understand this situation the same way I do?”
  17.  Reinvent the wheel. This phrase is typically used in sentences like “Hey, we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here — we just need a quick solution.” “Reinventing the wheel” means coming up with something novel or unprecedented. “Not reinventing the wheel” is building on or modifying something that has come before.
  18.  Think outside the box. “Box? What box?” you might be thinking. “Think outside the box” means to think in unconventional ways or to think beyond typical approaches.
  19.  Window of opportunity. When you hear this expression used, it means that there is a fixed amount of time when something is possible.
  20.  USP and UVP. These two abbreviations have very similar meanings. “USP” stands for “unique selling point” or “unique selling proposition.” “UVP” stands for “unique value proposition.” When you hear either one used, it’s referring to what makes your company or product stand out from the competition.

Are you seeking English language training for yourself or for your employees that focuses on English as it’s really spoken at the office? For a free consultation, get in touch with us at or (800) 401-3159.