Some engineering slang words and expressions are downright funny. While others you need to know to deeply appreciate the engineering profession.
For this reason, I put together a complete list of engineering slang words and expressions.
My list is a mixture of slang words and expressions that I’ve used, heard, or seen in all types of engineering.
Let’s get this list started.
Engineering slang words and expressions’ list
A monkey fucking a football: fucking up your work. In other words, doing poor quality work.
“The work of those contractors is like monkies fucking a football.”
All hat, no cattle: all talk with no action.
“That engineer is all hat, no cattle.”
As-built: the final set of drawings for a project. In other words, drawings that reflect the field construction. Important to realize, design drawings are always tweaked in the field.
“Request the contractor’s marked-up sheets so we can complete the as-built drawings.”
Back of the envelope: rough approximated calculations. These types of calculations are typically made on scraps of paper. For example, on the back of an envelope.
“I started the design with back of the envelope calculations.”
Banker’s hours: short working hours. In other words, coming in late and leaving early.
“We’ll be working banker’s hours this week.”
Belt and suspenders: designing conservatively. In a word, overengineering.
“Stop wearing a belt and suspenders when you design.”
Buried: you’re very busy.
“I’m buried in work today.”
Busier than a rooster in a hen house: you’re very busy.
“I’m busier than a rooster in a hen house today.”
Buzzword compliant: a product that contains the same features held by its competition.
“Our product is buzzword compliant.”
Cattywampus: not lined up or arranged correctly.
“Undeniably, the vertical beams are all cattywampus.”
Chip away: going at a problem little by little until you completely solve the problem.
“Just chip away at the problem, until you figure out the solution.”
Coupler: something that connects two parts together.
“Remove the coupler before you investigate the piping issue.”
Cuss and discuss: to discuss a subject at length and in great detail. Without reservation, all opposing views are welcome and needed.
“We need to cuss and discuss before we decide on this design approach.”
Deadman: a heavy object that acts as an anchor for a wall.
“Firstly, install the deadman for the retaining wall before you do anything else.”
Dog and pony show: a highly promoted or overblown performance or presentation.
“I’m tired of these dog and pony shows put on by these large corporations.”
Drop in the bucket: a small part of something.
“What you’ve designed is only a drop in the bucket of what’s remaining.”
Dross: something that’s regarded as worthless.
“There’s a lot of dross in these documents.”
Dry contact: you get the control voltage for a contact from an outside source. For example, when you wire a single contact to another device that will provide it with a source voltage.
“Please make sure to add an extra dry contact for the compressor.”
Eighty-six: throw something away or discard it.
“Eighty-six the design. We’re losing too much money.”
Engineer’s ink: white-out for correcting mistakes. In other words, since engineers make so many mistakes, they need a lot of white-out.
“Get me some engineer’s ink for these design drawings.”
Fat finger error: a human error caused by pressing the wrong key on a calculator or keyboard.
“Joe had another fat finger error in his final report document.”
FAT: Factory Acceptance Test. To illustrate, at the factory you review the equipment. This allows you to catch any design errors before the equipment ships.
“FAT testing solutions ensure clients get a finished product they’ll love.”
Female connector: a connector attached to a wire, cable, or any piece of hardware. It has one or more recessed holes. This allows a connector with a plug or extended part, a male connector, to be inserted in snugly.
“Be sure you order both the male and female connectors, so the parts can be connected properly.”
Field verify: if you can’t confirm something in the office, you’ll need to verify it at the project site.
“Please have the contractor field verify no conduits exist underground before excavation begins.”
File 13: throw something away. To rephrase it, file 13 is a euphemism for the trash bin.
“Joe, just File 13 it now!”
Fitting: matching parts that touch or join in some fashion. In other words, one part turning inside of another. As well as one part sliding in another to hold tightly.
“Provide a better pipe fitting to ensure there are no leaks in the pipe run.”
Fixture: a support device used to hold something in place at the desired location.
“Where do you want to place the lighting fixture?”
Flex: in electrical engineering, it’s in reference to a flexible conduit or cable.
“Use a flex conduit to connect from the junction box to the motor.”
Flush: something even or level.
“Be sure the front face of the two cabinets is flush with each other.”
Frozen orbit: the controlled orbit of an artificial satellite. As a result, the satellite will have little natural drifting. Instead, the satellite will be stationed to remain over the same point with each orbit.
“Above all, it’s critical these satellites have a frozen orbit to properly function.”
FUBAR: Fuck Up Beyond All Recognition. In other words, something damaged or that’s not working.
“The design is FUBAR.”
Gimbaled thrust: the exhaust nozzle of a rocket that swivels from side to side.
“Ensure the engineers include the gimbaled thrust in the load testing.”
Gnaw on: think about something.
“Let me gnaw on the design drawings a little before I decide.”
Grade: refers to the level of the soil.
“Drive the ground rod down until the top end is flush with grade.”
Gray hairs: people with a lot of experience.
“Go get some grey hairs to work on this project.”
Grease nipple: a fitting mounted to machinery to provide an opening for lubrication. Then, a grease gun is typically used to add a lubricant.
“Make sure the machine has a grease nipple for maintenance.”
Guesstimate: halfway between a guess and an estimate.
“I guesstimate the structures’ safety factor is adequate.”
Hack: skilled workers that are not up to the task of doing the work.
“Those people we hired were all hacks.”
Half baked effort: someone who doesn’t put in the effort, and the results match.
“Quit with the half baked effort if you want good results.”
Hammering: working very hard on a problem.
“I was hammering away at the problem all night long.”
High impedance air gap: forgetting to plug in a device. In brief, no greater impedance exists to stop current flow than a device that’s not plugged in.
“Did you fix Joe’s high impedance air gap blunder?”
Homerun: wire that goes directly to a service panel for power.
“What’s the best way to run a homerun in this building?”
Horse cock: explosion-proof flex conduit.
“We need to use a horse cock in this room for the final connection.”
It’s not my bailiwick: it’s not something I’m good at or should be doing.
“Go find someone else. This is not my bailiwick.”
Jack and Bore: a method to drill a hole underground horizontally between two points. For example, drilling under an existing road without disturbing the surface.
“Be sure the contractor is able to jack and bore in Robway Road to install the 42-inch casing.”
Jig: a device used to guide a cutting tool.
“Use the drill jig to increase the production rate.”
Kerf: the act of cutting or carving something.
“The contractor made a kerf on the board before making his cut.”
Let’s kick that around: let’s talk about it.
“Let’s kick that around before we make a final decision.”
Like herding cats: referring to a difficult or impossible task.
“Managing this team of engineers is like herding cats.”
Magic Smoke: a humorous name for the smoke made from overheated electrical equipment. So, when you power on an electrical device, you want it to work without letting out any of its “magic smoke”.
“Go do the magic smoke test to see if the equipment works or not.”
Make wires from stretching pennies: being frugal.
“I’ve been making wires from stretching pennies with this entire project.”
Male connector: a connector attached to a wire, cable, or any piece of hardware. It has an exposed part that inserts into a recessed hole, a female connector. The female connector snugly then holds the male connector.
“I have the male connector ready to plug into the receptacle.”
Manchester screwdriver: in England, it’s in reference to a hammer.
“Please hand me the Manchester screwdriver.”
Manifold: a pipe or chamber that branches into several opening.
“Be sure to install the pipeline manifold for Brooke’s project.”
Mechatronics: branch of engineering that focuses on electrical, mechanical, robotic, and electronic systems.
“Future products of tomorrow will come from the mechatronics field.”
Mickey Mouse: something isn’t done good or it’s worthless.
“The design is a Mickey Mouse job.”
Napkin sketch: a quick out of the blue thought that you sketch on a napkin.
“My napkin sketch brought the design to life.”
Nipple: a fitting made of a short piece of pipe.
“You can use the nipple for the final connection to the casing.”
Nominal: in reference to an as planned, as named, or as written value.
“Check the nominal current of the device. Above all, make sure it doesn’t exceed the ampere rating of the socket.”
Nuke it: get rid of the existing design and start over.
“This design isn’t working. Just nuke it!”
Number cruncher: someone who works with a lot of numbers. Also, someone who does a lot of calculations.
“Go give the spreadsheet to the number cruncher to figure out.”
Peach Pits: machinery vibrating a lot, as it resembles a dog passing peach pits.
“The peach pits were strong in startup testing for the building equipment.”
Pear-shaped: a reference to when things go wrong.
“The final design went completely pear-shaped.”
Peckerhead: the wiring box mounted to an electric motor.
“Go ahead and wire directly to the peckerhead.”
Percussive maintenance: the art of banging on equipment that’s not working, to make it work.
“I had to use percussive maintenance to get my garbage computer to start working.”
Petcock: a shutoff valve used to control the flow of liquid or gas.
“Drain the fuel tank with the petcock closed before removing the fuel lines.”
Piece of cake: something that’s simple to accomplish.
“The design was a piece of cake.”
Pissing into the wind: when what you’re doing is doing more harm than good. Also, it could mean you have no hope of succeeding in the work you’re doing.
“All my work seems like I’m pissing in the head.”
Poka Yoke: mistake-proofing. In other words, a method used to avoid human errors in work.
“The main benefit behind poka yoke solutions are products that consumers always love.”
Prairie dog event: a loud event in an office with cubicles. As a result of the loudness, everyone pops their heads up to see what’s going on.
“Unquestionably, that was the best prairie dog event I’ve seen in all my years of working.”
Pucker Factor: the measured level of fear and stress. So, if there’s a high chance of something going wrong the pucker factor will be high.
“The pucker factor in the office was at an all-time high when we received the unfortunate news.”
Relief tube: an old method for allowing pilots to urinate while flying. To illustrate, it’s a device with a funnel and tube attached to a pilot’s seat. The device would flush urine to the outside of the plane.
“Does this old plane come with a pilot relief tube?”
Round file: tossing documents you don’t need in the garbage.
“I’ll round file your new mail for you.”
RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly): something breaks from misuse or blows up.
“You see the rapid unscheduled disassembly of that rocket.”
Run it up the flagpole: test the popularity of a new idea.
“Let’s run it up the flagpole before we speak with the client.”
Schmooze em: kiss ass to benefit in some way.
“Go schmooze em so we can get more funding.”
Sharpen the pencil: to better solve a problem through closer investigation and review. Also, using more precise numbers. By and large, this expression is used to finish approximated work.
“Let’s sharpen the pencil to finish the structural load calculations.”
Siamese connection: a pipe that branches off into two.
“Go ahead and add a siamese connection as the pipe will have two outlets.”
Six of one, half a dozen of the other: comparing two similar items together.
“It doesn’t matter if you design it this way. In any event, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
Sleep on it: hold off on making a decision until you can think over it more.
“Let’s sleep on it before placing the purchase order.”
Spinning my wheels: putting in a lot of effort but not achieving anything in return.
“I’ve been spinning my wheels all day trying to solve this problem.”
Splitting hairs: going into too much detail.
“Stop splitting hairs, the answer is simple.”
Steel in the line: a closed valve. Thus, water can’t travel through a pipe because the valve blocks the water. Hence, steel in the pipeline.
“Joe left steel in the line again.”
Stick a fork in it: something that’s done, or work that can no longer continue.
“Stick a fork in it. As I’ve said, we’re losing too much money on this new design.”
Strut: a structural component used to resist compression in the direction of its length.
“Where is the strut placed in the building’s frame?”
Stub up: a short piece remaining after cutting something. For example, something going into or out of a machine, wall, or floor.
“Stub up three conduits next to the door outside of the building.”
Thermal runaway: when an increase in temperate brings conditions that further increase temperature. This then often leads to something failing or blowing up.
“The battery in the equipment experienced thermal runaway.”
Thermal shock: a change in temperature that causes tension in a material.
“The mounted material experienced thermal shock.”
Thread: a continuous helical ridge made on the inside or outside of a cylinder. For example, a threaded nut and a threaded screw.
“We need to use threaded screws to hold together the equipment.”
Tip of the iceberg: the beginning of something, or a small part of something.
“This problem is the tip of the iceberg.”
Turboencabulator: a fictional machine that had a bloated technical description. So, it’s a reminder to engineers to use less jargon in communication. Rather, be straightforward and cut to the chase.
“We don’t have a turboencabulator, so go rewrite your report.”
Tweak it: adjust the details or numbers slightly.
“Go tweak your calculations to include the new load.”
WAG: Wild Ass Guess. So, an off the cuff guess over something.
“That’s my WAG like it or not.”
Wellbore: a drilled hole in Earth to explore and recover natural resources. For example, to look for oil or water.
“Structurally, the drilled wellbore looks to be safe and secure.”
Wet contact: you get the control voltage for a contact from the device it’s a part of. In other words, the contact is internal to the device that provides it a source voltage. Also, it doesn’t matter if the contact has a voltage across it or not.
“We don’t want voltage in this device from a foreign source. So, supply a wet contact device.”
There you have it. The largest list of engineering slang words and expressions on the internet.
Of course, some of these engineering slang words and expressions you’ve already heard. While others will give you a good laugh or make you scratch your head in confusion.
But, in the end, you can now hopefully better understand underground engineering lingo. Then, start using some of them yourself too.
What are your favorite engineering slang words and expressions? Also, which engineering slang words and expressions do you think are the most strange?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2019 to help people better understand the engineering and construction industry, and to discuss various science and engineering related topics to make people think. He has been working in the engineering and tech industry in California for over a decade now and is a licensed professional electrical engineer, and also has various entrepreneurial pursuits.
Koosha has an extensive background in the design and specification of electrical systems with areas of expertise including power generation, transmission, distribution, instrumentation and controls, and water distribution and pumping as well as alternative energy (wind, solar, geothermal, and storage).
Koosha is most interested in engineering innovations, the cosmos, and our history and future.