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Watercooler Chat: Casual Vocabulary to Use Around the Office


Knowing words, phrases, and idioms that English-speakers use in casual conversations at work is incredibly useful! Being able to participate in watercooler chat at your job is a great way to bond with and to get to know your coworkers. The following vocabulary list represents phrases you may hear your coworkers say over the course of a day. Whether you work in the United States, have English-speaking business clients, or are just looking to learn new idioms, this selection of phrases will be very useful to you!

  1. Watercooler chat/conversation: A casual conversation in the workplace where coworkers gather around the watercooler during breaks to talk, chat, and gossip.

  2. Small talk: Short, impersonal conversations on topics like the weather that one has with acquaintances.

  3. The elephant in the room: This phrase refers to an issue that everyone in a room is aware of, but socially unacceptable or taboo to discuss.

  4. To hear (something) through the grapevine: This phrase refers to hearing a rumor from an unofficial source, such as a friend of a friend.

  5. Nine-to-five: This phrase refers to the typical number of hours in a working day that last from 9 AM until 5 PM; a “nine-to-five” job may refer to a job that is boring or routine.

  6. To put (something) on the backburner: This phrase refers to the act of not giving a problem direct attention right away, and instead thinking about the issue for a few days.

  7. To have a lot on (one’s) plate: This phrase refers to having lots of work to do.

  8. Cut-throat: If one describes their job as cut-throat, then they mean that everyone is intensely competing to be the most successful employee, without caring if they harm their coworkers in the process.

  9. No-brainer: Refers to something that is simple and easy to understand.

  10. Off the top of (one’s) head: If one thinks of an idea “off the top of their head,” then they have not given much thought to this idea.

Watercooler Chat: Vocabulary in Context

During a watercooler conversation that I had with my coworkers while on break, we avoided talking about the elephant in the room: no one wanted to talk about the fact that Terry was getting divorced because he cheated on his wife. We decided to make small talk for awhile, only talking about impersonal topics like the weather. Finally, Joyce mentioned some gossip she had heard through the grapevine. A friend told her that our coworker, Lars, was tired of working nine-to-five at such a cut-throat company, and decided to quit his job in order to start his own business. I had once dreamed of starting my own company, but had since put this idea on the backburner: I don’t have time to think about running a business, since I have a lot on my plate. I would be scared to try and start my own company, since off the top of my head, I can think of three friends who tried to start businesses that failed. However, to Lars, doing something he enjoys is a no-brainer, and I am very happy for him!

Bonus Tip

With this handy list of idioms to use around the office, you will be able to keep on top of your favorite American TV shows. Watching TV is a wonderful way to improve your foreign language-skills. Check out shows like The Office, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Parks and Recreation for playfully humorous shows about work, business, and office life! If you’re unsure where to begin, try reading this helpful article, “How to Watch ‘The Office’ and Learn Useful Business Phrases,” from the language-learning website, Fluentu!

Anna Deen.png


Anna Deen is a student at Washington University in St. Louis studying English Literature, American Culture Studies, and Communication Design. In her free time, she enjoys hiking in the mountains, going to art museums, and eating ice cream.

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