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Say What Now? How to Decipher Your Global Colleagues’ Chat

Picture the scene. You’re the new hire for a global team. You’ve jumped on your first team meeting. Suddenly, all attention turns to you. First, your US colleague asks if you can assemble some “ballpark performance figures.” Then, someone from Australia asks if “you can have it ready by the arvo?”. Finally, your British boss says the fateful words: “Ready to break your duck?”

If your answer is to stare blankly at the screen, opening and closing your mouth like a fish until everyone moves on from the sheer force of social embarrassment, we’re here to help. We’ve collected jargon from bonafide, real-life, flesh-and-blood Americans, Australians, and Britons to try and help you stay afloat in the world of international idioms.

American Phrases

We’ll start by delving into some expressions from the land of the free and the home of the brave—the USA! USA! USA!

Take a rain check

  • Meaning: To postpone to another, as yet unspecified time.
  • Example: “I can’t make the meeting today—can I take a rain check?”
  • Etymology: The phrase refers to issuing tickets, or checks, for baseball games postponed due to rain.

Bang for the buck

  • Meaning: To get maximum value for money.
  • Example: “My new office chair might have been pricey, but it swivels beautifully—I got some bang for my buck.”
  • Etymology: A “buck” is a slang term for a dollar, potentially derived from the American colonial period when buckskins were traded for goods. “Bang”, meanwhile, refers to excitement.

Boil the ocean

  • Meaning: To tackle an extremely difficult or impossible task.
  • Example: “We’ll have to try and boil the ocean to increase our leads this quarter.”
  • Etymology: Unclear. While boiling the ocean is of course an impossible task, the origins of this phrase aren’t clear.

Australian Phrases

Now, let’s turn our attention to the land down under, where women glow and men plunder. Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover.

Thinking outside the square

  • Meaning: To think differently or from a new perspective.
  • Example: “The boss wants some new ideas by the end of the day—it’s time to think outside the square.”
  • Etymology: A two-dimensional variation of “thinking outside the box.”

Under the pump

  • Meaning: Under pressure to perform.
  • Example: “We’re all feeling a bit under the pump with this new boss that’s come in.”
  • Etymology: Unclear, perhaps from a sailing term referring to the need to bail out a damaged boat to prevent it from sinking.

Arvo

  • Meaning: The afternoon.
  • Example: “Do you think you could have this ready by this arvo?”
  • Etymology: A contraction of “afternoon” with the diminutive suffix “o”.

British Phrases

Finally, we have a little place some call the land of hope and glory (well, England, anyway). Now, the UK is often referred to as a sports-mad nation. Judging by the origin of the following phrases, that’s probably a very fair assumption.

To break one’s duck

  • Meaning: To do something for the first time.
  • Example: “I’m glad I’ve finally broken my duck and submitted my first TPS report.”
  • Etymology: This phrase originates from the game of cricket, where a score of zero is referred to as a “duck,” short for “duck’s egg,” due to the digit’s oval shape.

To move the goalposts

  • Meaning: To change the rules while a process is ongoing.
  • Example: “I thought we were on track to meet our targets this month, but they’ve totally moved the goalposts.”
  • Etymology: Refers to the goalposts used in association football and the notion that it would be impossible to score a goal if they were taken away.

Kick into touch

  • Meaning: To push a concern or issue into the future.
  • Example: “Why are we still focusing on this project? I thought we kicked it into touch?”
  • Etymology: Derives from the sport of Rugby, where teams can kick the ball over the touchline and out of play, usually to escape a difficult situation.

Jargon Busting with Multiplier

Look, we’re the first to admit that nine phrases from just three English-speaking countries aren’t enough to keep you embarrassment-free as you negotiate the many video calls, emails, and instant messages you’ll receive while working for a global team. So, we’d encourage you to share your local knowledge by tagging us on our social channels and letting us know what local business-related lingo might trip your colleagues up.

Do you feel like your business is missing out on nice-to-have problems like these? If that’s the case, and you’re interested in hiring global talent from the Arctic to Antarctica and everywhere in between, Multiplier is here to help. Talk to our experts to find out more.

Will Smith
Will Smith

Content Writer

Will is a content writer at Multiplier. With a background in technology journalism, he is passionate about busting jargon, getting to the heart of complex topics, and (hopefully) writing pieces you'll enjoy reading.

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