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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Meeting Talk


Do you know the expressions in the picture? What do they mean?


David: Let's start this bull session. We have a whole laundry list of things to talk about, but we can put most of them on the back burner for now. Mike, I think you're on the hot seat first.
Mike: Right. The new budget needs a going-over.
David: I though that was finished.
Mike: It's not, but we don't have to go back to square one. All the scutwork's done; it just needs a once-over before we submit it.
David: Oh, OK. Thanks, Mike. Al, any problems in your team?
Al: Yes. As you know, Susan has dropped the ball on several projects lately. I think HR might need to give her a talking-to.
David: OK, Al, thanks...


It's true we can use most of these expressions at other times, but they are quite commonly heard in meetings.


Here are some words and expressions used in the above dialogue:

a. back burner: Many stoves have four burners, two each in the front and back. If a dish is just simmering, and needs no attention, you can move it to the back burner. So "putting something on the back burner" means leaving it alone for the time being.

b. bull session: "Bull" is an abbreviated expression that means "nonsense." So a "bull session" is a meeting in which nonsense is spoken. This meaning itself is nonsense, of course; meetings can be very important, but people like to joke that they're useless.

c. drop the ball: a sports image. If you drop the ball in a game, you have failed to complete your task. So we use "drop the ball" to describe somebody not following through on something.

d. going-over: a noun meaning "examination" or "perusal." Many parents give their child's homework a going-over before allowing them to hand it in.

e. hot seat: the place where attention is focused, often when someone is in trouble. (Here it's used jokingly.) For example, "I've been late to work three times this week; my boss called me in to his office and put me on the hot seat," that is, scolded me, or questioned me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable.

f. laundry list: a long list of items. Literally it would be a list of clothing items to be picked up from the laundry, but here it is used figuratively.

g. once-over: a close look. A bit like a "going-over," but less intense. We might give a restaurant bill a "once over" before paying it.

h. scutwork: boring, routine work, like washing dishes in a kitchen. This word is so recent that it may not even be in your dictionary.

i. square one: the metaphorical beginning point. "Going back to square one" means starting all over again.

j. talking-to: To "give a talking-to" means to scold. Al is suggesting that Susan needs an official warning about her behavior, usually the first step leading to someone's dismissal.

Use one of the above terms in each of the following sentences. Be sure to use the correct form.

1. My boss gave me a long __________ of things to do, just when I was leaving work!
2. I can't wait 'til I'm a boss, so I can make someone else do all the __________.
3. We're going out to give our new office a quick __________; want to come along?
4. These documents need a through __________ before we can submit them.
5. We don't have time for any new projects, so all proposals will be put on the __________ for now.
6. When my report was late, my boss really gave me a __________.
7. The boss scheduled a __________ so we could discuss the new budget.
8. If this solution doesn't solve the problem soon, we'll have to go back to __________ and find another way.
9. If Mark __________ one more time, he'll probably be fired.
10 The boss put me on the __________ about my pans for my department next year.


1. Do you often have to go to meetings? Are there expressions you use in meetings that you don't usually use?
2. Can you think of situations where you would use the words above? Make some sentences and practice them with a partner.
3. What expressions do you have in your language to express some of these ideas? How would you translate them into English?


1 f laundry list; 2 h scutwork; 3 g once-over; 4 d going-over; 5 a back burner; 6 j talking-to; 7 b bull session; 8 i square one; 9 c drops the ball; 10 e hot seat

This lesson is ©2012 by James Baquet. You may share this work freely. Teachers may use it in the classroom, as long as students are told the source (URL). You may not publish this material or sell it. Please write to me if you have any questions about "fair use."

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