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What Does the Idiomatic Expression "Bottom Line" Mean?

By Angela Farrer
Updated May 23, 2024
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The idiomatic expression "bottom line" refers to a usually brief and concise concept, idea, thought, or conclusion that is given a greater deal of importance over other related subject matter that is often considered extraneous or even unnecessary. This idiom usually means only the information that is the most essential or relevant once the extra factors are disregarded. The "bottom line" is often used to describe the results of financial reports and other business-related objectives such as project outcomes. The use of these types of sayings usually implies preoccupation with direct results and an emphasis on receiving a quick conclusion that facilitates planning the next course of action for a given situation.

Accountants often use the idiom "bottom line" to describe the net income of a business over a certain time period such as a month or a year. The term is actually derived from the last tallied figure in the ending column and row of an accounting spreadsheet. Financial professionals who monitor the status of a certain company's performance in the stock markets can sometimes refer to the current price per share as the "bottom line" as well. They can also sometimes refer to an amount of money with this phrase, which usually implies that this particular debt needs attention within a relatively short time frame in order to avoid possible repercussions.

This English saying is also used in other situations outside of the financial industry, particularly those involving a significant amount of discussion or negotiation. Managers asking their employees for the "bottom line" usually want to hear a brief summation of current circumstances without the interjections of opinions or unrelated facts. This kind of report is generally delivered in one sentence or phrase for simplicity's sake. In workplace environs where efficient use of time can directly affect profits, updates on this type of information can be particularly important in many situations. A new potential employee may often consider the offered rate of pay to be an important "bottom line" as well.

These kinds of idiomatic sayings can have positive or negative connotations depending on the given circumstances that are directly tied to the results. A business project may be fraught with difficulties during the process, but it can have a good "bottom line" if the results generate profits or other desired results. Another business that still loses money despite smaller individual successes can be considered to have a less favorable conclusion.

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Discussion Comments
By Bertie68 — On Aug 16, 2011

When I get into a serious discussion about politics, philosophy,or other controversial subject with my brothers, we get going at a pretty fast pace. Then we will all get a little bit drained and someone will say, "Well, the bottom line is...."

A brief summary of issues we've been discussing is given, leaving out anybody's opinion.

This kind of expression makes a good breather for all. We can take a moment to collect our thoughts, maybe change subjects or go back to the same subject with a new slant.

By B707 — On Aug 16, 2011

I have never worked in the world of finance or accounting, but I can easily see how the idiom "the bottom line is..." originated with reference to looking at the bottom figure in an accounting sheet.

I use it myself and hear it used in other contexts. When you are discussing a solution to a problem, or where to go next on a procedure that is being debated, this expression is used.

If different people are asked for the "bottom line, they are being asked to give a brief statement of the most relevant issues, leaving out opinion or unimportant ideas.

Even during a negotiation in a family, say between a teen and her dad, the dad might say something to the effect that, "no, the bottom line is that it isn't wise for you to spend the week-end with your friends at the ocean. Period. End of discussion."

By ysmina — On Aug 15, 2011

@alisha-- You're right, that's very helpful!

I also think that "bottom line" can be used to explicitly say things that you haven't before. You know when someone tries to explain something but doesn't want to say it right out. This usually ends up confusing the other person even more and you might have to bring it all together and actually say what you really mean.

For example, the other day, I asked my brother if I could borrow his car for a couple of days. He went on and on about how his car is having a couple of issues and it needs to get checked out and so forth.

When I insisted that it would be fine, he said "the bottom line is, I can't give you the car this week."

I don't know how common this is but I think that it is sometimes used to clarify what someone's intentions are.

By discographer — On Aug 14, 2011

This phrase never made sense to me until I read about how it is used when checking accounts. I remembered the account details I use to check for my previous job. It was always an endless list of numbers and transactions that ended with the final account balance.

I always skipped the details and went right to the bottom to see what the balance was as this was the only important part for me.

I completely understand what "bottom line" means now. It's the most important and relevant information that you need to know!

Great article and explanation, thank you!

By burcidi — On Aug 14, 2011

I have a friend who uses this expression way too often. Every time he tells me about an experience or incident, he will sum it up and say "the bottom line is..."

I didn't even know that this expression is typical accountant lingo. I think it is being used a lot by everyday people. I don't use it very often, but I think I have used it in the classroom setting when we were discussing a subject in class and the discussion got a little heated.

I think it sounds much better than saying "to sum it up" or "the point is." It can sound a bit harsh if the tone is loud, but that depends on the circumstance.

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