Business English from the Real World

One of the best ways to keep improving your business English is to read the business pages of the newspaper. I find the Wall Street Journal to be very well written and full of idioms and expressions. Let’s take a headline right from today’s Wall Street Journal. In this case, all we need is the headline for a productive mini-English lesson!

P&G’s Stumbles Put CEO On Hot Seat for Turnaround

Here we’ve got two very useful business expressions in one short headline. Plus we have one very good noun (stumble) and one acronym you should definitely know (CEO).

So let’s start with the useful expressions:

on the hot seat – in a difficult position. Note that you will sometimes hear this as “in the hot seat.” Why “hot seat” in this expression? you ask. Some say this expression comes from the days when police used bright lights when asking questions of suspects. Bright lights made the questioning very uncomfortable.

turnaround – an improvement in conditions (when things are bad and then they turn good). I believe this originally just meant “turning in the opposite direction.” These days, when used in business, this means turning in a POSITIVE direction. A second definition in business relates to a period of time one has to do something (“What’s the turnaround on this project?” – “We need to get it done by Friday”).

Now let’s look at another word in the headline: stumble. Can you guess what this means? Well, it must mean something bad if it put the CEO on the hot seat right? Yes, indeed! It means mistakes or missteps (what you would call a “screwup” in slang). In this case, stumble is being used as a noun. But it is also very often used as a verb. To stumble means to make a mistake. If you stumble when you walk, you hit your foot on something. There is the expression “stumble through” which means to get through something awkwardly (as in: “Joe stumbled through his talk and quickly left the room”). If you “stumble over” something, you trip over it (“Susan stumbled over the books lying on the floor”).

Finally, we have our acronym: CEO. Do you know what this stands for? It stands for Chief Executive Officer. That’s the person in charge of the company. There may be other “chiefs” at the company too – such as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Learning Officer (CLO), Chief Marketing Officer (CMO). All of these people make up what we call “C-level” executives and they are in a place at the company called the “C-suite.” All of those “C’s” standing for “Chief” and chief meaning the highest in rank or authority.

By the way, you may be wondering about “P&G.” That stands for Procter & Gamble. It is a large American consumer products goods company (CPG for short). The company makes products like laundry detergent, diapers, cosmetics, razors, shampoos and many other products you use every day. They were founded all the way back in 1837 by William Procter and James Gamble. Since the company is now nearly 200 years old, we can imagine it will survive. But perhaps today’s CEO will not survive the hot seat for too much longer.

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