5 Racing Terms Used in Business English

The business world is fast-paced. So naturally, a lot of business English phrases either come from or are inspired by competitive sports like running and horse racing. Here are the five most popular terms that are related to these two sports.

1. Head start (n.)

A "head start" refers to "the advantage of starting a race or competition before others." Someone who gets a head start begins a race before everyone else. For example, if you get to start a race five seconds before other people, you have a "five-second head start."

In business, we often say that a company has a "head start" when it enters a certain market earlier than its competitors.

  • Yahoo had a head start in the search engine industry, but now more people use Google.
  • Many companies are rushing to get a head start on advertising in the metaverse.
  • Working with local influencers gave the cosmetics company a head start in the Chinese market.

We also use "head start" to talk about people's careers.

  • Renu got a head start in the art industry when she interned at art galleries in university.
  • Alex's language skills gave him a head start in international law.

2. From scratch (adv.)

"From scratch" means "from the start" or "from nothing." "Scratch" here refers to the line that is scratched on the ground to mark the starting point of a race. So if you start something "from scratch" you start "from the very beginning."

Most of the time, we use "from scratch" with the verbs "start" and "build."

  • She started three companies from scratch. [= She didn't take over existing companies. She built them herself.]
  • This video game was built from scratch. [= The game developers made all the graphics themselves.]

You will also see "from scratch" used with other related verbs.

  • Most innovations don't involve inventing something from scratch.
  • As part of its rebranding efforts, the company plans to redesign its website from scratch.

3. Hurdle (n.)

A "hurdle" is an object that needs to be jumped over in a race.

Outside of running and racing, we use the word "hurdle" to talk about something that is in our way: i.e. a problem or difficulty we have to get over to reach a goal.

  • Getting approval from the CEO is our last hurdle before we can start the project.
  • The company faces many hurdles to growing its revenue.
  • There are many legal hurdles to getting a drug approved by the government.

When someone successfully deals with a hurdle, we say they "clear" or "overcome" it.

  • Getting investment was the first hurdle we needed to clear as a start-up.
  • The company will need to overcome a few hurdles before it can successfully rebrand itself.

4. Across the board (adv., adj.)

"Across the board" means "affecting everyone or everything in a group." The term comes from horse race betting. Normally, people bet on different horses. For example:

  • Horse A will win first place.
  • Horse B will win second place.
  • Horse C will win third place.

However, in an "across-the-board" bet, someone bets on the same horse for first, second, and third place.

Outside of horse racing, "across the board" is used to say that all members of a group are affected by some change.

  • With inflation at an all-time high, costs are rising across the board. [= The cost of everything is rising.]
  • Whenever oil prices go down, the oil industry cuts jobs across the board. [= Job cuts are happening in every part of the industry.]

This phrase is also often used as an adjective. In this case, we usually put hyphens between each word: "across-the-board."

  • The company decided to make across-the-board pay cuts. [= The company cut everyone's pay.]
  • Investors were pleased with the company's across-the-board growth. [= The company grew in all ways.]

5. Race to the bottom (n.)

"Race to the bottom" refers to unhealthy competition where businesses try to see who can cut the most costs. We use this phrase to describe competition that hurts everyone involved.

For example, let's say Restaurants A and B are competitors. A race to the bottom might look like this:

  • Restaurant A lowers its prices by using cheaper ingredients in its food.
  • Restaurant B responds by using even cheaper ingredients and firing some waiters.
  • To lower its prices even more, Restaurant A fires some kitchen staff.

If this continues, both restaurants will overwork their remaining staff and maybe even cause some workplace accidents. The quality of their food and service will also drop, leading them to lose customers. Both restaurants may even go out of business as a result. This is a classic example of a "race to the bottom."

  • We need to end this race to the bottom and adopt more sustainable business practices.
  • The rivalry between taxi-hailing apps has started a race to the bottom, and it's hurting taxi drivers the most.
  • Instead of joining the race to the bottom, we should focus on bringing more value to our clients.

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