In time, these lessons and "stubs" will be migrated to the Buzzwords site.
Until then, consider them historical.

Business before Pleasure


1. Can you guess the meaning of this saying?
2. Do you always take care of work (say, housework) before having fun?


James sees his friend, a woman named Patricia, on the subway.

James: Hey, Pat.
Patricia: Oh, hi James.
James: Where are you off to?
Patricia: Ugh! The office.
James: What the...? But it's Saturday! Your boss must be a real slave driver.
Patricia: My boss? No, I run my own business.
James: So what keeps your nose to the grindstone?
Patricia: Well, you know, "Business before pleasure."
James: I guess. But can't you ease up even a little?
Patricia: Oh, I get my licks in. But sometimes you just have to knuckle down and do it, you know?
James: OK. I'll quit hassling you.
Patricia: Here's my stop. Gotta go.
James: Ok. Don't work too hard!
Patricia: Thanks. Have a nice day.

Some proverbs are always true. The value of others changes, depending on the situation.

"Business before pleasure" is one of those. Sometimes, we must do "pleasure before business." For example, at a business lunch, we should take time to make small talk and cultivate friendship with the person we're doing business with.

In other cases, though, as in today's dialogue, we must put work before play, drudgery before fun, "business before pleasure."

More notes:
  • Where are you off to?: This just means "Where are you going?" in an informal way.
  • Ugh!: This sound indicates that Patricia finds working on Saturday disgusting
  • What the...?: An expression of surprise. The last word (left out) is usually a rude or vulgar one; we leave it unsaid, as James did, for a stronger effect.
  • a real slave driver: someone who makes his or her workers work hard, like slaves
  • to keep one's nose to the grindstone: to work hard, without a break
  • to ease up: to cut back on something, or (in this case) work less
  • to get one's licks in: "licks" here means "hits," like in the sport of boxing. A boxer tries to hit his opponent as much as possible; the more "licks" he "gets in," the higher his score. Patricia here means that she occasionally has time for fun; she doesn't miss every opportunity.
  • to knuckle down: This comes from the sport of shooting marbles. One puts the knuckle of one's pointer finger directly on the ground, before shooting the marble with the thumb. So someone who "knuckles down" is actively in the game.
  • to hassle: to give someone a hard time, to bother them


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

1. When I was a kid, my mom was __________. She always made us do our homework before we could play.
2. It's time to __________ and get serious about studying; the test is tomorrow!
3. I'm __________ the store. Do you want to go with me?
4. Don't __________ me, Mom; I'll do my homework when I'm ready!
5. Don't push Johnny so hard. He's just a kid! __________ on him a little.
6. __________? Who stole my ice cream from the freezer?
7. If you __________, without letting up, you're sure to be a success.
8. A: Wow! You really know how to hit a golf ball! B: Yeah, I __________.
9. __________! What's that smell?


If you can, try to talk about these questions in English with a friend. If not, try writing your answers.

1. Have you ever had a boss, teacher, or parent who was a "slave driver"?
2. Do you usually "knuckle down" and "keep your nose to the grindstone," or do you prefer to "play now, work later"?
3. Would you rather be your own boss, or work for someone else? Why?


1. a real slave driver; 2. knuckle down; 3. off to; 4. hassle; 5. Ease up; 6. What the...?; 7. keep your nose to the grindstone; 8. get my licks in; 9. Ugh

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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