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American Slang Phrases in a Professional Environment

If English is your second language, you might assume slang words are only used in music videos or by Gen Z. However, in reality, slang is used by Americans of all generations and economic statuses, and in all environments. It establishes commonality among speakers and is a key aspect of American culture, differentiating American English from, say, British English. In this article, we will highlight some of the most common American slang phrases you will hear in a professional environment, whether that is at work, college, or even in everyday life, including interactions with your friends’ parents.

Of course, slang can vary by region, but we will focus on phrases you can safely use anywhere in the US. Here’s a list of slang phrases to know in order to expand your understanding of American English:

In a nutshell

Phrase used to mean “in summary” or “briefly.” It indicates that the speaker is about to give a concise summary of a more complex topic or situation.

In a nutshell, the new policy aims to reduce costs while improving efficiency.

Put him/her up to speed

Means to inform or update someone about the latest information or developments on a particular topic or situation.

After the meeting, I’ll put her up to speed on the project’s progress.

Play by ear

Means to improvise or make decisions spontaneously rather than following a set plan.

Let’s not plan everything in advance and just play it by ear.

To each their own

Means that everyone has different tastes, preferences, and opinions, and those differences should be accepted and respected.

I don’t understand why he likes that style of music, but hey, to each their own.

Right off the bat

Means immediately or without delay, often referring to the very beginning of an event or situation.

Right off the bat, he knew that this job was the perfect fit for him.

Butter up

Means to flatter or praise someone excessively, often to gain favor or get something in return.

He tried to butter up his boss with compliments to get a promotion.

Don’t buy it/that

Means not believing or being convinced by something that someone says.

She said she was late because of traffic, but I don’t buy it.

Hit it out of the park

Means to do something exceptionally well, often far exceeding expectations.

Her presentation was so impressive that she really hit it out of the park.

We’ll cross that bridge when we get there

Means to deal with a problem or situation when it actually happens, rather than worrying about it in advance.

We don’t need to worry about that right now; we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Rule of thumb

Refers to a practical guideline based on experience or common sense, rather than strict rules or scientific measurements.

A common rule of thumb for cooking steak is to grill it for about five minutes on each side for medium doneness.

Come again?

Means to ask someone to repeat what they just said, often because it was not heard or understood the first time.

Come again? I didn’t catch that last part of what you said.

Devil’s in the details

Suggests that small, overlooked details can cause significant issues or challenges. It emphasizes the importance of paying attention to minor aspects of a task to avoid potential problems.

The project proposal looks straightforward but the devil’s in the details, and we need to thoroughly review the contract to avoid any issues.

It’s on the house

Used to indicate that something is being provided free of charge by an establishment or person. It means the customer does not have to pay for the item.

After our meal, the waiter brought us a complimentary dessert and said, ‘It’s on the house.’


Refers to an unexpected challenge or surprise, often one that disrupts plans or requires a quick adjustment.

The sudden change in the project’s deadline really threw us a curveball.

Let’s touch base

Means to make brief contact or check in with someone, usually to update them or maintain communication.

Let’s touch base next week to discuss the progress on the project.

Take off

In slang, “take off” means to leave quickly or suddenly, or it can refer to something becoming successful or popular rapidly.

Enjoy the party, I’m going to take off I have work tomorrow.

Talked me into it

Means to persuade or convince someone to do something, especially when they were initially unsure or hesitant.

Even though I was hesitant, she talked me into going to the concert with her.


A promise to reschedule an invitation or offer for another time.

I’m sorry I can’t make it to dinner tonight, but can I take a raincheck for next week?

Screwed up

Means that something has gone wrong or someone has made a mistake.

I really screwed up the presentation by forgetting to include the key data.

Hit the sack

Means to go to bed or go to sleep.

After a long day at work, I’m ready to hit the sack.

Check it out

Means to look at something or pay attention to something that is interesting or important.

Hey, check it out! There’s a new café that just opened down the street.

Hang in there

Means to persevere or stay strong in a difficult situation, encouraging someone not to give up.

Even though things are tough right now, just hang in there; it will get better soon.

Tip of my tongue

Used to describe the feeling of knowing something but being temporarily unable to recall it. It refers to the sensation that the information is just about to come to mind but isn’t quite accessible at the moment.

The name of the song is on the tip of my tongue.

Break the ice

To do or say something to relieve tension or get conversation started in a social setting.

To break the ice at the meeting, he told a funny story about his weekend.


Short for “as soon as possible”

Please send me the report ASAP

Blown away

To be extremely impressed, amazed, or shocked by something.

I was blown away by Greg’s presentation today on global warming.

Fed up

Means feeling very frustrated, annoyed, or tired of a situation or person, to the point of being unwilling to tolerate it any longer.

I’m fed up with the loud music, I can’t study.

To have change

In slang, “change” often refers to money, especially coins or small amounts of cash.

Do you have change for the parking meter?

To have cold feet

Means to feel nervous or hesitant about a major decision or action, often to the point of wanting to back out.

She got cold feet and almost canceled the wedding at the last minute.

He/she is a keeper

Refers to someone that is worth holding onto because of their valuable or desirable qualities.

She went to a great university and has amazing people skills; she’s a keeper. Let’s hire her for the job!

Say cheese

Commonly used to encourage people to smile for a photograph. The word “cheese” is chosen because the “ee” sound makes the speaker’s mouth form a smile.

Everyone gathered for the team photo, and the photographer said, ‘Say cheese!’

Want to keep building your vocabulary? Check out 10 Ways to Build Your Vocabulary in English

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