Speak Business English Like an American » LESSON 15 - Shifting Blame

Shifting Blame

Rick and Ellen work for Attic Treasures Antiques, an antique shop. Max is the owner of the shop. Recently, a woman came in and sold them $10,000 worth of "antique" jewelry. Max takes one look at the jewelry and realizes it's fake.

Max: I can't believe you two bought these fake antique necklaces! Didn't you examine them before shelling out 10 grand?

Rick: Yeah, I thought they were fake, but I let Ellen talk me into buying them.

Ellen: What? I can't believe my ears! You thought they were real. Now you're just trying to cover yourself!

Rick: I don't want to be the fall guy here, Ellen. You were the one who looked at them under a magnifying glass.

Ellen: For the record, you were the one going on about how you "struck gold" right after the woman left the shop!

Rick: I don't remember saying that. Stop trying to pass the buck. Just step up to the plate and admit your mistake!

Ellen: Right, while you wash your hands of the whole thing. Dream on!

Max: Let's stop pointing fingers at each other. We need to track down that woman and get the money back!

  • (to) shell out
    to pay (often more than one would like)
    EXAMPLE: The fast food chain had to shell out $ 10 million in a lawsuit after several people got sick from eating their hamburgers.
  • (to) talk someone into something
    to convince someone to do something, often something that one later regrets
    EXAMPLE: Our president doesn't want to give us Christmas Eve off as a holiday. We're hoping our office manager can talk him into it.
  • I can't believe my ears!
    I'm very surprised!
    EXAMPLE: Chris got fired? I can't believe my ears! He was one of our top salespeople!
  • (to) cover oneself
    to try to avoid being blamed for something; to protect oneself from blame
    EXAMPLE: Nina knew her company was producing a defective product. She covered herself by keeping records of all of her letters and e-mails to her boss about the issue.

    NOTE: You may hear the more vulgar form of this expression: cover your ass, or the shortened version "CYA." Since "ass" is a vulgar word, some people use more polite variations of this expression, such as "cover your behind" and "cover your butt."

  • fall guy
    the person who gets blamed for a mistake, sometimes unfairly
    EXAMPLE: The company's entire management team wanted to enter the market in China. When the business failed there, they made Fred the fall guy and fired him.
  • for the record
    let me make my opinion clear
    EXAMPLE: I know that everybody else likes the idea of using a bear for a mascot, but, just for the record, I think it's a lousy idea.
  • (to) go on about
    to talk too long about; to talk for a long time about (always said as a criticism); to brag
    EXAMPLE: Bill is always going on about what a great salesman he is.
  • (to) strike gold
    to make a very profitable deal; to discover something valuable
    EXAMPLE: Christie struck gold with the idea of selling videos at discount prices on eBay.
  • (to) pass the buck
    to shift the blame; to blame somebody else
    EXAMPLE: It's your fault. Don't try to pass the buck!

    ORIGIN: This expression comes from the world of poker. In the nineteenth century, a knife with a buckhorn handle (the "buck") was passed to the next dealer when it was his turn to give out the cards.

  • (to) step up to the plate
    to take action; to do one's best; to volunteer
    EXAMPLE: We need somebody to be in charge of organizing the company holiday party. Who'd like to step up to the plate and start working on this project?

    NOTE: This expression comes from baseball. You step up to the plate (a plastic mat on the ground) when it's your turn to hit the ball.

  • (to) wash one's hands of
    to remove any association with; to stop being part of something; to refuse to take responsibility for
    EXAMPLE: When Molly realized her business partners were selling stolen goods, she decided to wash her hands of the whole business.

    ORIGIN: This expression comes from the Bible. Pontius Pilate, a Roman official, announced before a crowd that he wouldn't save Jesus from execution. Then he washed his hands in front of the crowd, symbolically washing away the responsibility.

  • Dream on!
    That's what you'd like, but it's not realistic.
    EXAMPLE: You want to retire in five years, and you've only got $5,000 in the bank? Dream on!
  • (to) point fingers at each other / (to) point the finger at someone
    to blame
    EXAMPLE: Don't point the finger at me! You need to take the blame for this mistake.
  • (to) track something down
    to find, usually with difficulty
    EXAMPLE: Sheila left an important file in a taxi, and now she's going to have to track it down.
Practice The Idioms

Choose the most appropriate response to the following:

  1. Please don't try to talk me into exhibiting at your trade show this year.
    • a) Okay, I'll sign you up.
    • b) Okay, I'll call you tomorrow to talk about it some more.
    • c) Okay, if you're sure you're not interested, I won't ask again.
  2. I can't find Sam's address anywhere. Do you think you can help me track it down?
    • a) Yes, I'd be happy to track it.
    • b) Sure, I'll help you find it.
    • c) No, but I'll help you find it.
  3. We've already shelled out enough on advertising this year.
    • a) I agree. Let's spend more.
    • b) I know we've spent a lot, but I think we should do a couple more radio ads.
    • c) I disagree. We've already spent a lot of money on advertising.
  4. You think you'll be accepted to Harvard Business School? Dream on!
    • a) You may not agree, but I think it's a realistic goal.
    • b) Right, I'll just go to sleep and dream about it.
    • c) Thanks for helping me think big.
  5. I had nothing to do with the disastrous decision to hire Dennis. Don't point the ringer at me!
    • a) I'm not pointing the finger, but I am blaming you.
    • b) Good. I'm glad you're willing to take the blame.
    • c) Okay, I won't blame you.
  6. I think we've struck gold with our idea to sell content on our website instead of giving it away for free. What do you think?
    • a) I agree. It's a great idea.
    • b) I agree. Nobody's going to be willing to pay for it.
    • c) I agree. We should sell silver and bronze on the site too.
  7. You need to take responsibility for our accounting problems. Stop trying to pass the buck!
    • a) Okay, I won't pass it anymore. You can have it.
    • b) I already passed the buck.
    • c) I'm not trying to pass the buck. I admit I made a mistake.
  8. You finally got promoted, and now you're leaving your company and opening a health food store? I can't believe my ears!
    • a) Yes, I know it's a surprising move.
    • b) I couldn't believe my ears either.
    • c) I know you're not surprised.
Answer Key
Practice The Idioms
  1. c
  2. b
  3. b
  4. a
  5. c
  6. a
  7. c
  8. a
Answer Key
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