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In Gujarati language there is a saying which literally means "no shame in business".

It is used in a context where one has to do something unpleasant (or immoral) for the sake of their business (business as in profession). When criticized for doing what they do, they use this phrase to justify their actions, they do it for the sake of their business and don't feel any shame or regret.

Is there a common saying in English which conveys the same? If so and if possible can you provide some earliest references of its use.

  • 30
    One similar but not identical one is to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs. – Dan Bron May 6 '18 at 12:43
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    @DanBron Good call. – Centaurus May 6 '18 at 12:44
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    Greed is good. – Wall Street, 1987 – Mazura May 6 '18 at 17:04
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    This is a funny question, because that's exactly what "It's just business" means. – Azor Ahai May 7 '18 at 22:42
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    It's worth noting that, while there are many idioms along these lines, it is increasingly unlikely to be used as a justification for an immoral work ethic. – AJFaraday May 9 '18 at 9:33

14 Answers 14

114

"Nothing personal, it's just business."

Coined by Otto "Abbadabba" Berman an accountant for the Mafia in early 1900’s in New York. See Wikipedia

In The Godfather movie, Michael Corleone likewise says: It's not personal. It's strictly business.
See YouTube

  • 8
    I think the meaning of this phrase in English is close to, but importantly different than, what Amit is asking. The English phrase is not intended to suggest the speaker is free from shame, just that the action isn't emotional. With higher sound quality, the exact line is "It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business." Here, Michael Corleone is speaking to his brother and is assuring him that Michael's violent plan is motivated by business and not a personal vendetta. – Jess Riedel May 7 '18 at 18:11
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    In other words, you might use the phrase "Nothing personal, it's just business" when buying from a cheaper supplier instead of your friend (who happens to be a competing supplier and is more expensive). On the other hand, you would not use this phrase if you were humiliating yourself to win a contract, but it sounds from Amit's description like you would use the Gujarati phrase in that case. – Jess Riedel May 7 '18 at 18:17
  • Tom Hanks says it to Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail. She takes exception to it ... (She gets the last laugh though: Consider what happened to Borders and what's coming for Barnes&Noble.) I do believe though that Tom is feeling shame ... so I think @JessRiedel is right in comments above. – davidbak May 7 '18 at 18:41
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    This is a recurring theme in the Godfather. When Tessio (who was planning to betray Michael) is rumbled, he says to Tom Hagen, "Tell Michael it was only business..." youtube.com/watch?v=RIJIXMX2zw8 – Oscar Bravo May 8 '18 at 6:13
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    There is another one in Godfather 2, "This is the business we have chosen ..". – Jay May 10 '18 at 4:46
61

business is business

In The Free Dictionary:

A phrase that emphasizes business decisions as completely separate from emotions or personal issues.

In Merriam-Webster:

used to say that in order for a business to be successful it is necessary to do things that may hurt or upset people

Exactly how "immoral" an action can be and still be covered by these sayings is perhaps a question for a different venue.

  • Excellent!! this is certainly a pin pointed answer. As accurate as selected answer! in fact more preferable in general talk! thank you. – Amit May 7 '18 at 2:26
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    @Amit Please consider accepting the answer with the check mark if you think it satisfied your request the most! :) – Ian May 7 '18 at 6:21
  • @Ian I have already accepted one answer here. long before this answer was even posted. – Amit May 7 '18 at 6:25
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    @Amit It's customary to wait at least 24 hours before accepting an answer, because half of the globe may be asleep when you first post. – pipe May 7 '18 at 9:15
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    @Amit fwiw you can change accepted answer if you want – RiaD May 7 '18 at 20:00
47

"All is fair in love and war."

Like the Gujarati phrase as described in the question, this makes the specific claim that ethics don't apply when certain vital interests are at stake for the speaker.

I think it is frequently said in the context of business.

Here's an example:

They say that all is fair in love and war – and most people extend that saying through to business.
Ben Kepes, All's Fair in Love, War and Business, October 14, 2008

And here's a dictionary entry (Merriam-Webster):

Definition of all's fair in love and war
—used to describe a situation in which people do not follow the usual rules of behavior and do things that are normally considered unfair • Sure, it was underhanded to steal his customers, but all's fair in love and war.

And another (TheFreeDictionary.Com):

all is fair in love and war
Otherwise questionable actions are acceptable under extenuating circumstances. Often written as "all's fair in love and war." A: "I can't believe you took credit for my idea just so you would look good to the boss!" B: "Come on, all is fair in love and war!"

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    This carries a certain connotation of ruthlessness, in my experience. Other suggestions are more neutral, though I'm not sure which more accurately reflects the Gujarati phrase. – Ethan Kaminski May 6 '18 at 18:14
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    I think this matches very well the gist of the Gujarati phrase as described here--the connotations of "no regrets" and self-justification, in particular, seem like a good fit. FYI, I've added text from your links; this is considered best practice here, so that folks don't have to click away from the site to see your point and also in case of link rot. If I've pulled the wrong quotes or otherwise mischaracterized your intent, please feel free to edit further or roll back. – 1006a May 7 '18 at 14:16
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    Thanks 1006a, on all counts. You showed me the way, and the why, and you quoted the parts I think justify my answer. – Ron May 8 '18 at 1:47
  • @1006a there is another phrase in Urdu which is literally translated and generally accepted (in Hindi - "प्यार और जंग में सब जायज है : Everything is fair in love and war" and some other regional languages of India) from this "all is fair in love and war" and sometimes they add business too. Phrase I asked about is almost similar but still having little different applications. I need to do more research on difference but one thing I can sense "all is fair in love and war" is used for more intense action. – Amit May 8 '18 at 2:32
33

As suggested by Dan Bron, "you've got to crack a few eggs to make an omelette" may fit. We use it to imply that to achieve a purpose, something must be sacrificed. (in this case, principles, moral norms, and the like.

In order to achieve something, it is inevitable that some mistakes are made or some sacrifices occur. Wiktionary

  • It's polite to convert someone else's suggestion to a Community Wiki. Not that this is all that close. – Edwin Ashworth May 6 '18 at 15:59
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    @EdwinAshworth I disagree. Centaurus took the time and effort to actually post as an answer. Posting an answer as a comment does not give you any ownership over it. – Kat May 6 '18 at 18:36
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    I agree with @Kat. If I’d wanted credit for an answer, I’d have posted an answer. I already upvoted this. Though I think it’d be improved if the actual phrase being suggested were gilded or otherwise set apart and made more obvious. – Dan Bron May 6 '18 at 19:04
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Don’t know how common it might be, but here’s a phrase from a relatively recent American novel:

I’ve got to make a living.

Source: Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Context: A white business owner in small-town Alabama, decades before the Civil Rights Movement, is explaining to an African-American boy why she can’t let him sit at a table in her cafe, even though she has no personal objections. “There’s a bunch in town that would burn me down in a minute, and I’ve got to make a living.”

This particular example is not quite on point for the question, however, as the speaker does regret the necessity, and resists it as much as she can: she serves African-American customers out the back door, stands up to an authority figure who criticizes her doing so, and eventually starts giving them a discount.

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    With variants like "It's a living" and "it pays the bills"/"whatever pays the bills". – JKreft May 7 '18 at 2:39
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    It's idiomatic. No worries about how common it is. +1 – jpmc26 May 8 '18 at 1:37
  • @JKreft I've only ever seen those expressions in the sense of the speaker is willing to make any effort to keep food on the table, rather than as a acknowledgement of compromising morals in order to get ahead in business. Those expressions are indicative of moral fortitude and stamina in the face of adversity whilst the OP's request is, loosely, about willingness to compromise ruthlessly for money. They are quite antithetical IMO. – pbhj May 9 '18 at 19:48
  • @pbhj They're commonly used to cover any question about a person's profession, often as a way to shut the conversation down instead of going into motivations, morality, etc. – JKreft May 12 '18 at 14:18
  • That could mean the person does still feel shame though just that does not see any other/better way to act. – mathreadler May 13 '18 at 14:34
17

It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

14

The end justifies the means. (Thanks rahul.)

This proverbial (and controversial) observation dates from ancient times, but in English it was first recorded only in 1583, in the Niccolo Machiavelli's book The Prince.

See The Free Dictionary, and the discussion about its meaning.

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    This does not seem to be a common saying. Far more common is "the end justifies the means". – Rahul May 6 '18 at 14:08
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    As a note, "the purpose..." sounds like a bad two-way translation of the idiom. – chrylis May 6 '18 at 20:06
  • @Mari-LouA - Thank you very much, I accepted both your suggestions. – MarianD May 7 '18 at 10:39
  • It should be noted that The Prince was written in Italian in the 16th century. – Rob K May 7 '18 at 18:37
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    According to Petrina’s Machiavelli in the British Isles, the first English translations (anonymous manuscripts) were seen around the 1580s, with the first printed translation being published in 1640. – Tom Zych May 7 '18 at 19:42
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For a lower-level version of this, you'll also hear "I'm just doing my job." Or "That's the job." or similar statements.

"Just following orders" also shows up in contexts where the organization or person giving the orders (police, military, religious organization) is presumed to have a moral imperative to be able to do things without shame that would otherwise be immoral.

  • "I put in my two week notice," or "This 'job' sucks." – GettingNifty May 6 '18 at 18:49
  • Related Wikipedia article: Superior orders – Andrew Grimm May 7 '18 at 3:00
  • @BobJarvis True, but irrelevant. He was asking for an expression that would express the sentiment, not one that justifies the action. – JKreft May 7 '18 at 15:24
11

Don't hate the player, hate the game. Listed by Wikitionary.

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    Please add a source to support your answer. – JJJ May 7 '18 at 16:19
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There is a Latin saying which has been translated to many languages: Money does not stink.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecunia_non_olet

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    Not a common saying in English. – reinierpost May 7 '18 at 9:11
  • There is an English version though, see this question. – JJJ May 7 '18 at 9:45
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    Where there's muck there's brass – RedSonja May 7 '18 at 10:24
  • @RedSonja, that's a different meaning. "Where there's muck there's brass" is about people being willing to work hard despite the filth in order to make money, as others aren't willing then the work attracts a higher rate of pay. "Money doesn't stink" is about being morally lax because whilst the manner of acquisition is immoral the money is the same as if it had been acquired by more wholesome means. – pbhj May 9 '18 at 19:51
  • The English idiom is along the lines of "Dirty money spends as well as clean." and "Money doesn't care where it came from/how you earned it." – JKreft May 28 '18 at 15:27
10

Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.

Proverbs 14:4

The proverb (as I have heard it and used it) is usually shortened to 'Where no oxen are, the crib is clean' or can even be used in a yet more succinct version 'where no oxen are ...'.

  • I would want to know more about it. can you please share some more and detailed references! – Amit May 7 '18 at 2:28
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    @Amit The quote is from the Book of Proverbs which is a collection of proverbs. There is no context; it is a collection. The proverb states that without oxen, the stable is clean and tidy and neat. But productive work means making a mess. – Nigel J May 7 '18 at 3:01
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    @Amit Given that the source is the Book of Proverbs which forms part of the bible, this is more a Judeo-Christian saying than specifically an English language one. You wouldn't hear it much in London where I am from. But it's probably well known in the Bible Belt area of the United States. – Level River St May 7 '18 at 16:54
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    lol. Appropriate and straightforward, but not particularly well known. – jpmc26 May 8 '18 at 1:38
  • In the Hebrew bible the phrase is a bit different. The first appearance of "Oxen" is actually a word meaning "Oxen that were trained for work". Most interpretations (from centuries ago) speak about how humans have to work and train hard to acquire education. If they don't (where no oxen are) there will be no wisdom (the crib is clean). But if they work and train hard to acquire education, the food piles (wisdom) will be full - even though those animals eat, their work produces overall more food than they eat (much increase...). I.e. - the investment in education pays off. – AmitA May 11 '18 at 19:15
1

"There are no friends in business" is a commonly-used phrase derived from Alexandre Dumas “In business, sir, one has no friends, only correspondents. ”

That is, you can shamelessly backstab anyone in business to get a better outcome.

0

To punch a/the puppy.

Source: many office buzzword articles such as this one
Relatively new, google trends has it popping up regularly only since 2010.

-1

The expression "no shame in business" somewhat reflects the concept of dignity of labour.

Wikipedia:

Dignity of labour
The dignity of labour, also known as the dignity of work, is the philosophy that all types of jobs are respected equally, and no occupation is considered superior.

  • Interestingly there's another saying (in Hindi and accepted in Gujarati) for 'Dignity of labour' which is "कोइ भी घंघा छोटा नहीं होता : No business is smaller (in terms of reputation)". And this line became viral after a bollywood movie staring Shahrukh khan, Raees. – Amit May 7 '18 at 2:36
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    I think this is the opposite of what's sought. This seeks to dignify and uplift honest work; the OP's phrase is about excusing dishonest, immoral behavior. – Rob K May 7 '18 at 18:41

protected by tchrist May 7 '18 at 15:53

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