Chunk of the day: the bottom line

In class yesterday, we looked at some vocabulary for describing different roles and duties people have at work. Students then went on to discuss which they had themselves, how good they felt they were at them – and which other ones they might be good / bad at. In the midst of this conversation, one student said she enjoyed forward-planning meetings where she and her colleagues came up with ideas to help guide strategy for the coming months. I asked if the bosses actually listened, as my university experience had led me to feel that asking was the easy part, hearing was much harder. She laughed and said something along the lines of “They don’t really care about our ideas. They are just interesting if they will make money or not.” I then wrote up the following sentence on the board, which we moved on during a general language-focused post-speaking round-up:

My bosses are only really int…………… in . . .

. . . whether or not we’re making money.

. . . the bottom line.

Obviously, there’s another core meaning of the bottom line – ‘the basic and most important factor or point’ – but it was this more monetary meaning that had come up and that we then focused on.

I wrote up – and explained – another example, connected directly to another student in the class, who runs his own business:

As a small business, we’re always looking to increase the bottom line.

I also pointed out that the chunk is often used by people criticizing companies that they feel are only interested in profits, not in any other aspect of their service.


I asked if they could think of a profession or business that they felt was often guilty of this – and was slightly surprised when the first answer was dentists! There was then a short discussion about why the student felt like this, what bad experiences they’d had, and then we ended up with this summary of one exchange on the board.

Most dentists don’t care about their patients. They’re only interested in the bottom line.

> Oh, come on! That’s a bit of an over-generalization!

Well, you can think what you want, but that’s been my experience of them!

As a final practice, I told students that in publishing – an area I’m obviously very familiar with – one thing that can have a huge impact on the bottom line is the cost of paper and that there are whole departments within major publishers whose job it is to source the cheapest decent-quality paper, and that small savings can make a big difference to annual profit margins. I then put them in groups and asked them to discuss what kind of things made a big difference to their bottom line in their lines of work (being evening class students, they’re all working) – and also told them to discuss any other professions or companies that they felt were only interested in the bottom line.

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