The language used by people doing business has many expressions that can be confusing because they’re metaphors — a shorthand way of comparing one thing to something else.

Here are six expressions that mean one thing literally (see photos) but have become familiar to Americans as business-related terms:

Get your foot in the door


What it means in business: To take advantage of a small opportunity so it might turn into a bigger opportunity in the future. “It’s a small contract, but they’re a huge company, so it’s a good chance to get our foot in the door.”

On a shoestring


What it means in business: Doing something with as little money as possible. “She started her business on a shoestring, but now it’s expanded into international markets.”

Bring to the table


What it means in business: What a participant in a business dealing has to offer other participants. “If he can’t connect us to more capital and we don’t like his business plan, what is he bringing to the table?”

Learning curve


What it means in business: The rate at which a person learns something new. “The job has a steep learning curve, so your first week might be stressful.”

800-pound gorilla


What it means in business: The biggest and most powerful company in a field. “Microsoft is the 800-pound gorilla in the software field, but I think our product offers value its can’t.”

Jump through hoops


What it means in business: To be made to do many inconvenient things in order to get what you want. “They finally signed the contract, but they made us jump through a lot of hoops before they did.”

Learn more

Explore more ShareAmerica materials on American English, including everyday conversations and how some of the language of business finds its way into everyday American speech.