There are many idioms that start with B, and can be used in the work environment. You’ll find a list below with an explanation and a useful example:
Back to square one
means to start something all over again. For example:
- After weeks of negotiating with an applicant for the mechanical engineer position, the recruitment team decided to go back to square one and look for another applicant to fill the position.
Back to the drawing board
has a similar meaning to the idiom back to square one, it means to make a fresh start or to start something all over again. For example:
- The screenwriters pitched the pilot episode of a new TV series to the network but the network wasn’t ready to invest in the project. They suggested the writers go back to the drawing board and think of a new plot while keeping the same characters.
this idiom refers to a deal or an agreement that is made discreetly or in secret. For example:
- The company made a backroom deal with a controversial sponsor, the company didn’t want the public to be aware of the connection between itself and the sponsor.
refers to an estimated number or a rough figure but nothing is set in stone yet. For example:
- The event planner emailed his client asking for a ballpark figure on the number of guests to the annual ball next year. The event planner needed an estimated number so he could start looking for the perfect location and get a rough quote from the caterer for the event.
Behind the scenes
is used when something happens out of the public view or in secret. For example:
- Behind the scenes, the CEO and the company’s legal team had been discussing the possibility of liquidating the company. These meetings were held in private in order to avoid worrying the company’s employees.
refers to the broad view of something that includes the most important and relevant details to the project rather than only focusing on one or two details of the project. For example:
- It is important for the manager to focus on the big picture so she can delegate important tasks to different colleagues effectively. If she only concentrates on one part of the project nothing will be done on time.
By the book,
if you do something by the book, this means that you follow the exact rules and you don’t try to go around the rules or bend the rules. For example:
- The marketing company’s legal team did everything by the book when they were setting up the company, in order to avoid any legal issues in the future.
if a person burns out, this means that the person has been overworked, is exhausted and can’t work productively anymore. For example:
- Medical professionals are often at risk of burning out as they work extremely long hours with very few breaks and are under a lot of pressure. If a doctor or nurse does burn out, they should take some personal time to recharge before they go back to work.
Between a rock and a hard place,
this idiom refers to a situation in which a person has very limited options, these options are usually undesirable and people would try to avoid choosing that option. For example:
- The CEO found himself in a rock and a hard place. The troubling financial situation the company faced meant that the CEO could only choose one out of two very bad options. He could either liquidate the company or file for bankruptcy.
backward, when a person bends over backward for somebody or something, this means that the person works extremely hard for somebody in order to achieve something for the other person. We usually use this phrase to express frustration and the feeling of being underappreciated. For example:
- The intern had been working at the legal firm for a few months and really wanted to impress the partners so he could get a permanent position with the firm. He had bent over backward for them from the very beginning, he never missed a deadline, worked during the weekend and contributed to meetings. But he felt that his hard work went unnoticed and was frustrated by the whole situation.
Be on the ball,
if a person is on the ball, this means that the person is present, attentive and can react quickly to whatever is happening at the moment. For example:
- There were some technical problems during the presentation, luckily the IT expert was on the ball, she identified the problem quickly and fixed it before too many people noticed the issue.
Back on its feet:
To be ready to go again, usually a person after being sick or a company after having a major problem with its product and sales
- It’s good to see the company back on its feet again after the CEO left so quickly.
To take back a promise or commitment, especially after it has been discussed seriously
- I can’t believe that you want to back out on our deal now! We even negotiated the terms and drew up a contract!
Back to back:
One after another; this usually is about things that happen in succession, such as meetings or people who come and go in a particular position
- The manager has meetings back to back this morning, but I may be able to find half an hour in the afternoon if you want to meet with him.
Ball is in someone’s court:
If the ball is in someone’s court, it means that they have the power and the ability to make a decision about something. You have given them all the information they need (background and potentially different choices they can make) and it is up to them to make the choice.
- Now that you have heard the information for both sides, the ball is in your court; just let us know which you decide.
Bang for your buck:
The relative value of something. If you get the most bang for your buck, you are able to maximize the return that you get for each dollar that you spend, each hour that you use doing something, etc.
- If you want to get the most bang for your buck when booking hotels, use a booking service that gets you the lowest prices and rewards you for your reservations.
Bank on something:
To rely on or expect something happening. If you bank on your friend having enough money to pay for dinner, for example, then you do not need to bring your own wallet.
- It turns out that I was wrong to bank on getting a promotion because the management position went to my coworker instead.
Break the bank:
To spend more than you can afford. This is especially for a service or product that you do not need in the first place.
- I knew that taking a weekend trip to Macau, with its high end hotels and super fancy casinos, would break the bank but also be insanely worth it!
Bark is worse than one’s bite:
When one’s words are more threatening than one’s actions. This comes from dogs, who can bark at you but do not necessarily bite. If someone’s bark is worse than their bite, it means that they might say nasty things and threaten you, but you do not really need to be worried.
- I was scared at first, but when my coworker said that the boss’s bark is worse than her bite, I relaxed.
Bark up the wrong tree:
To be looking for something somewhere that you won’t be able to find it easily. This again is a reference to dogs, who might bark at a tree that has no food, squirrels, or anything else of interest.
- My cousin kept asking me to look for people interested in testing out his new app, but he was barking up the wrong tree by asking me because I did not know anyone interested in the idea.
Back the wrong horse:
To pick the wrong side in something. If you are betting on a horse race, for example, backing the wrong horse means picking the losing side. This typically has consequences that can range from quite mild to very serious.
- After Herbert backed the wrong horse in the discussions to hire a new CEO, he ended up fired by the candidate that was chosen.
Back to the salt mines:
Going back to work.
- After the long holiday break over Christmas and New Year’s, it was time to get back to the salt mines.
Bag of tricks:
All the tactics that someone knows to get something done. It can but does not have to be sneaky.
- He had a bag of tricks that impressed almost everyone he met, except for the people that mattered the most.
Baptism of fire:
When you have to go through a really tough time at the beginning of a job or something similar.
- I was hired to be a teacher, and two days later two of the other teachers quit. I was put through a stressful baptism of fire that made me learn all the work procedures extremely quickly!
When something bears fruit, it means that it produces great results.
- No one was confident that this project would bear fruit, but everyone is surprisingly happy that it did!
Beat a dead horse:
When you try to push a project (or relationship, idea, etc.) that seems like a dead end. This is especially true if you have already sunk a lot of resources (time, money, etc.) into it and are unwilling to let it go because of that.
- It seemed logical that a project would need a lot of time to be profitable, but in the end it continued only because no one wanted to admit they were just beating a dead horse by pouring more money and time into it.