Metaphors of Office Work

To add another dimension to the collection of metaphors derived from business, here are a few based on our experiences working in offices.

blog - business - punch the clockpunching the clock

In many factories, workers must mark the time that they arrive for work by sticking a card into a machine that punches or stamps the time directly on the card.  This process is usually called punching the clock.  In metaphorical terms, punching the clock means one is ready to begin or end something.

Example:  Critics of the War in Iraq claimed that the Bush administration already had the clock punched for invading Iraq when the terrorists attacked New York in 2001.

blog - business - pinpointpinpoint

In business or education, places on a map or chart are sometimes indicated by inserting a pin into that point.  Thus, to pinpoint something is to indicate its exact location in space or time.

Example:  A president’s staff should help the president pinpoint the issues that are the most important to the American people.


During government or business transactions, the final decision is often printed on the documents with a rubber stamp filled with ink.  The stamp may be used to officially record the date, time or status of a transaction.  In popular terms, to stamp something means to label it with the views of a particular person, group or political party.

Example:  Ronald Reagan put his stamp on economic policies by cutting taxes on businesses.

blog - business - A_Rubber_stamp_standrubber stamp

In popular terms, to rubber stamp something means to officially approve something without thinking of or fighting for alternatives.

Example:  A good president does not rubber stamp every spending bill that comes in the oval office.  He or she must consider the results of each bill carefully and consider every alternative.

by all accounts

Every business must keep track of the money they spend and the money they earn. These records of money transaction are called accounts.  One can tell how a business is doing by looking at all of their accounts.  We also use the phrase by all accounts to indicate that the situation has been well researched.

Example:  By all accounts, Herbert Hoover was a very nice man, but he was not a good president.


When an accountant keeps track of the money in a company, he or she must write down the numbers on a paper with separate columns for profits, expenses, wages, etc.  In political terms, victories for each political party during an election are metaphorically counted in separate columns as well.

Example:  When Barack Obama won the state of Virginia in the 2008 election, that state shifted from the Republican column to the Democratic column.

blog - business - JohnHancock

signature move

                  After all transactions are complete in business or government, the people involved must sign their names on the document to make it official.  Each person’s signature is unique and very important to their identity.  In politics, business and entertainment, famous people are said to have signature moves, i.e., something that they often do that is unique to them.

Example:  During his presidency, Ronald Reagan’s signature move was to cut taxes on corporations so that they could get more profits and hire more workers.

blog - business - revolving doorrevolving door

Many large business and government office buildings in big cities have revolving doors at the front entrance.  A revolving door is never completely open or closed but constantly alternates between the two so that people can go in and out at the same time.  In politics, a revolving door policy occurs when staff members are hired from a certain pool of people, especially when leaders of companies are hired to work for the government, or when former government officials work as lobbyists for the departments they used to regulate.

Example:  During his tenure as president, George W. Bush was criticized for having a revolving door in his administration especially when industry leaders were hired as government regulators.

blog - business - Watercooler_(2)water cooler topic

Most offices have a water cooler from which the employees can get a drink of cold water.  Normally, the water cooler is a popular place for people to meet and have conversations about what is going on in their office or in the world.  A water cooler topic is something exciting that happened recently and everyone is talking about.

Example:  In 2008, when Hillary Clinton had a chance of becoming the first female president, her candidacy was the water cooler topic for many months.

Next time:  Metaphors of Banking and Investing


2 thoughts on “Metaphors of Office Work

  1. hell I am a student at Colorado technical university this topic is well thought out, I appreciate these words as ideas and resourceful for researching principals of business.

  2. Hi! I am so glad that you have found my blog useful. Please let me know if you have any questions about language usage. Every business has its own specialized terms, slang and metaphors. It’s a fascinating field of study on its own. Thanks for your nice comment!

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