Some engineering slang words and expressions are downright hilarious, while other terms are essential for thriving in the profession.
I’ve compiled a comprehensive list of engineering slang, including phrases I’ve used and heard across various engineering fields.
Engineering slang words and expressions’ list
A monkey fucking a football: Delivering poor quality work.
“The work of those contractors is like monkeys fucking a football.”
All hat, no cattle: All talk with no action.
“The engineer is all hat, no cattle.”
As-built: The final set of design drawings for a project, reflecting the finished construction.
“Ask the contractor for their marked-up sheets so we can finalize the as-built drawings.”
Back of the envelope: Quick and rough calculations.
“I kicked off the design with some back-of-the-envelope math.”
Banker’s hours: A short workday, starting late and leaving early.
“Looks like we’re on banker’s hours this week.”
Belt and suspenders: Designing with caution, sometimes to the point of over-engineering.
“Stop using a belt and suspenders approach in your designs.”
Buried: Swamped with work.
“I’m absolutely buried in work today.”
Busier than a rooster in a hen house: Incredibly busy.
“I’m busier than a rooster in a hen house today.”
Buzzword compliant: A product that checks all the boxes by including the same features as its competitors.
“Our product is definitely buzzword material.”
Cattywampus: Misaligned or not arranged correctly.
“Man, those vertical beams are all cattywampus.”
Chip away: Tackling a problem bit by bit until it’s completely solved.
“Just chip away at the problem until you find the solution.”
Coupler: Hardware that connects two parts together.
“Detach the coupler before investigating the piping issue.”
Cuss and discuss: Discussing a subject in detail while welcoming opposing views.
“We need to cuss and discuss before settling on this design approach.”
Deadman: A heavy object serving as an anchor for a wall.
“First, install the deadman for the retaining wall, then proceed with the rest.”
Dog and pony show: A flashy or overhyped performance or presentation.
“I’m tired of these dog and pony shows put on by these big corporations.”
Drop in the bucket: A small part of a larger whole.
“What you’ve designed is just the drop in the bucket compared to the remaining work.”
Dross: Something regarded as worthless.
“There’s a lot of dross in these documents.”
Dry contact: A contact whose controlling source voltage comes from an external source.
“Make sure to add an extra dry contact for the compressor.”
Eighty-six: To discard or abandon something.
“Eighty-six the design. We’re hemorrhaging money.”
Engineer’s ink: White-out for correcting mistakes. Since engineers make many mistakes, they need their own white-out.
“Hand 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 made another fat finger error in his final report.”
FAT: Factory Acceptance Test – reviewing equipment at the factory for compliance before shipping.
“FAT testing ensures clients receive a top-notch finished product.”
Female connector: A connector attached to a wire, cable, or hardware with one or more recessed holes. This allows a connector with a plug or extended part, a male connector, to insert in.
“Make sure to order both male and female connectors for proper connection.”
Field verify: Verifying something at the project site that can’t be confirmed in the office.
“Have the contractor field verify no conduits exist underground before excavation begins.”
File 13: To throw something away, as file 13 is a euphemism for the trash bin.
“Joe, just File 13 it now!”
Fitting: Hardware that connects two parts together.
“Use a better pipe fitting to prevent leaks in the pipe run.”
Fixture: A support device that holds something in place at a specific location.
“Where would you like the lighting fixture to go?”
Flex: In electrical engineering, it refers to a flexible conduit or cable.
“Connect the junction box to the motor using a flex conduit.”
Flush: Something that is even or level.
“Make sure the two cabinets are flush with each other at the front.”
Frozen orbit: The controlled orbit of an artificial satellite with minimal natural drifting, allowing it to remain stationed over the same planetary point.
“These satellites need a frozen orbit to function correctly.”
FUBAR: Fuck Up Beyond All Recognition, or damaged or not working.
“This design is FUBAR.”
Gimbaled thrust: The exhaust nozzle of a rocket that moves side-to-side.
“Have the engineers factor in the gimbaled thrust dring load testing.”
Gnaw on: To think about something.
“Let me gnaw on these design drawings before I make a decision.”
Grade: Refers to the level of the soil.
“Drive the ground rod until it’s flush with the finished grade.”
Gray hairs: People with extensive experience.
“We need some grey hairs on this project.”
Grease nipple: A fitting on machinery that provides an opening for lubrication.
“Ensure the machine has a grease nipple for maintenance.”
Guesstimate: A cross between a guess and an estimate.
“I guesstimate the structure’s safety factor is sufficient.”
Hack: Workers who lack the skill or expertise for a particular job.
“The people we hired were all hacks.”
Half baked effort: A lack of effort that shows in the results.
“Quit with the half baked attempts if you want to see good results.”
Hammering: Working hard on a problem.
“I was hammering away at the problem all night long.”
High impedance air gap: Forgetting to plug in a device, creating the ultimate barrier to current flow.
“Did you fix Joe’s high impedance air gap mistake?”
Homerun: A load wired directly to a service panel for power.
“What’s the most efficient way to run a homerun for this lighting load?”
Horse cock: An explosion-proof flexible conduit.
“We’ll need to use a horse cock in this room for the final connection.”
It’s not my bailiwick: Something that isn’t within one’s area of expertise.
“Find someone else for that – it’s not my bailiwick.”
Jack and Bore: A method for drilling a horizontal hole underground between two points, like drilling under a road without disturbing the surface.
“Make sure the contractor can jack and bore Robway Road to install the 42-inch casing.”
Jig: A device that guides a cutting tool.
“Using the drill jig will boost our production rate.”
Kerf: A slit or incision made by a saw or cutting torch.
“The contractor made a kerf in the board to mark where to cut.”
Let’s kick that around: Discussing something before making a decision.
“Let’s kick that around before we decide.”
Like herding cats: Referring to a challenging or seemingly impossible task.
“Managing this team of engineers feels like herding cats.”
Magic Smoke: A humorous name for the smoke made from overheated electrical equipment. When you power on an electrical device, you want it to work without it releasing its “magic smoke.”
“Perform the magic smoke test to see if the equipment functions properly.”
Make wires from stretching pennies: Being frugal or cost-conscious.
“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. The connector has an exposed part, which inserts into a recessed hole, a female connector.
“I’ve got the male connector ready for the receptacle.”
Manchester screwdriver: A lighthearted reference to a hammer in England.
“Please hand me the Manchester screwdriver.”
Manifold: A pipe or chamber branching into multiple openings.
“Install the pipeline manifold for Brooke’s project.”
Mechatronics: A field of engineering focusing on electrical, mechanical, robotic, and electronic systems.
“Mechatronics will drive the development of tomorrow’s products.”
Mickey Mouse: Poorly done or worthless work.
“The design is a Mickey Mouse job.”
Napkin sketch: A quick, spontaneous idea sketched on a napkin.
“My napkin sketch brought the design concept to life.”
Nipple: A short piece of pipe used as a fitting.
“Use the nipple for the final connection to the casing.”
Nominal: Referring to an as-planned, as-named, or as-written value.
“Verify the device’s nominal current and ensure it doesn’t exceed the socket’s ampere rating.”
Nuke it: Abandon the existing design and start from scratch.
“This design isn’t working. Let’s nuke it!”
Number cruncher: Someone who works with numbers and does numerous calculations.
“Give the spreadsheet to the number cruncher to figure out.”
Peach Pits: Machinery that vibrates so much it resembles a dog passing peach pits.
“The peach pits held up well in the startup testing.”
Pear-shaped: When things go awry.
“The final design went completely pear-shaped.”
Peckerhead: The wiring box mounted on an electric motor.
“Wire directly to the peckerhead.”
Percussive maintenance: The art of banging on malfunctioning equipment to make it work.
“I used percussive maintenance to fix my computer.”
Petcock: A shutoff valve for controlling the flow of liquid or gas.
“Drain the fuel tank with the petcock closed before removing the fuel lines.”
Piece of cake: Something easy to accomplish.
“The design was a piece of cake.”
Pissing into the wind: Doing more harm than good, or having no hope of succeeding.
“With all my work, it seems like I’m pissing into the wind.”
Poka Yoke: Mistake-proofing or checking for human errors.
“Poka Yoke solutions lead to products consumers love.”
Prairie dog event: A loud event in an office with cubicles causing everyone to pop their heads up.
“I just witnessed the best prairie dog event in my years of working.”
Pucker Factor: The measured level of fear and stress. If there’s a high chance of something going wrong, the pucker factor will be high.
“The pucker factor in the office was high when we received bad news.”
Relief tube: An old method for pilots to urinate while flying, consisting of a funnel and tube attached to a pilot’s seat, flushing urine outside the plane.
“Does this old plane have a pilot relief tube?”
Round file: Tossing unwanted documents in the garbage.
“I’ll round file your new mail for you.”
RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly): something breaks from misuse or blows up.
“Did you see the rapid unscheduled disassembly of the rocket?”
Run it up the flagpole: Testing the popularity of a new idea.
“Let’s run it up the flagpole before talking to the client.”
Schmooze em: Kissing ass for self-interest.
“Go schmooze em to get more funding.”
Sharpen the pencil: To better solve a problem through closer investigation and review. By and large, improving approximated work by using precise numbers.
“Let’s sharpen the pencil to finish the structural load calculations.”
Siamese connection: A pipe branching off into two outlets.
“Add a Siamese connection as the pipe will have two outlets.”
Six of one, half a dozen of the other: Comparing two similar items.
“It doesn’t matter if you design it this way, as it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.”
Sleep on it: Delaying a decision to think it through.
“Let’s sleep on it before issuing the purchase order.”
Spinning my wheels: Exerting effort without achieving anything worthwhile.
“I’ve been spinning my wheels trying to solve this problem.”
Splitting hairs: Making small and unnecessary distinctions.
“Stop splitting hairs, the answer is simple.”
Steel in the line: A closed valve blocking the flow of water.
“Joe left steel in the line again.”
Stick a fork in it: Something is over, finished, or can go no further.
“Stick a fork in it; we’re losing too much money on this design.”
Strut: A structural component resisting compression in the direction of its length.
“Where is the strut in the building’s frame?”
Stub up: A short piece remaining after cutting something. For example, something remaining in or out of a machine, wall, or floor.
“Stub up three conduits next to the door outside of the building.”
Thermal runaway: An increase in temperature leading to conditions that further increase temperature, often causing failure or explosion.
“The battery experienced thermal runaway.”
Thermal shock: A change in temperature causing tension in a material.
“The mounted material experienced thermal shock.”
Thread: A continuous helical ridge on the inside or outside of a cylinder, like a threaded screw.
“Use threaded screws to hold together the equipment.”
Tip of the iceberg: The beginning or small part of something.
“This problem is the tip of the iceberg.”
Turboencabulator: A fictional machine reminding engineers to use less jargon and cut to the chase.
“We don’t have a turboencabulator, so go rewrite your report.”
Tweak it: Adjusting details or numbers slightly.
“Tweak your calculations to include the new load.”
WAG: Wild Ass Guess, an off-the-cuff guess.
“Take my WAG!”
Wellbore: A drilled hole in Earth to explore and recover natural resources. For example, a drilled hole to look for oil or water.
“The drilled wellbore looks safe and secure.”
Wet contact: A contact’s controlling source voltage is from the device itself.
“Supply a wet contact device to avoid foreign source voltage.”
Well, I sure hope you snagged a couple of nifty new words to add to your vocab, and maybe even cracked a smile or two in the process. At the end of the day, you’re now armed with some legit engineering jargon, so you can totally chat like a pro.
What are your top favorite engineering slang words and expressions? Which engineering slang words and expressions do you find the most strange?
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Author Bio: 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 well over 15 years 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, sports, fitness, and our history and future.