Some engineering slang words and expressions are downright funny. While others you need to know to work in the engineering profession.
I’ve put together a complete list of engineering slang words and expressions. My list is a mix of slang words and expressions I’ve used and heard in all fields of engineering.
Engineering slang words and expressions’ list
A monkey fucking a football: doing 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: a project’s final design drawing set, which reflects the completed construction.
“Request the contractor’s marked-up sheets, so we can complete the as-built drawings.”
Back of the envelope: rough approximated calculations.
“I started the design with back of the envelope calculations.”
Banker’s hours: short working hours of coming in late and leaving early.
“We’ll be working banker’s hours this week.”
Belt and suspenders: designing conservatively, or as some may call it, over-engineering.
“Quit wearing a belt and suspenders when you design.”
Buried: very busy.
“I’m buried in work today.”
Busier than a rooster in a hen house: very busy.
“I’m busier than a rooster in a hen house today.”
Buzzword compliant: a product, which 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: working 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: hardware, which connects two parts together.
“Remove the coupler before you investigate the piping issue.”
Cuss and discuss: discussing a subject in detail, while welcoming all opposing views.
“We need to cuss and discuss before we decide on this design approach.”
Deadman: a heavy object acting 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 the remaining work.”
Dross: something regarded as worthless.
“There’s a lot of dross in these documents.”
Dry contact: a contact’s controlling source voltage is from an outside source.
“Please make sure to add an extra dry contact for the compressor.”
Eighty-six: to discard something.
“Eighty-six the design. We’re losing too much money.”
Engineer’s ink: white-out for correcting mistakes. Since engineers make many mistakes, they need their own 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. Review equipment at the factory for compliance, before it ships out.
“FAT testing solutions ensure clients receive a finished product they’ll love.”
Female connector: a connector attached to a wire, cable, or any piece of hardware with one or more recessed holes. This allows a connector with a plug or extended part, a male connector, to insert in.
“Be sure you order both the male and female connectors, so the parts can properly connect.”
Field verify: verification of something at a project site, as it’s unconfirmable in the office.
“Please have the contractor field verify no conduits exist underground before excavation begins.”
File 13: throw something away, as file 13 is a euphemism for the trash bin.
“Joe, just File 13 it now!”
Fitting: hardware to connect two parts together.
“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 the junction box to the motor.”
Flush: something is even or level.
“Be sure the front face of the two cabinets are flush with each other.”
Frozen orbit: the controlled orbit of an artificial satellite with minimal natural drifting. The satellite will remain stationed over the same planetary point with each orbit.
“It’s critical these satellites have a frozen orbit to properly function.”
FUBAR: Fuck Up Beyond All Recognition, or damaged or not working.
“The design is FUBAR.”
Gimbaled thrust: the exhaust nozzle of a rocket, which 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 is flush with the finished 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.
“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 who are not up to the task of doing a line of work.
“The people we hired were all hacks.”
Half baked effort: someone who doesn’t put in the effort, and the results show.
“Quit with the half baked effort if you want 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. No greater impedance exists to stop current flow than an unplugged device.
“Did you fix Joe’s high impedance air gap blunder?”
Homerun: a load wired directly to a service panel for power.
“What’s the best way to run a homerun for this lighting load?”
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: a slit or incision on an edge made by a saw or cutting torch.
“The contractor made a kerf in the board to mark where he had to 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. When you power on an electrical device, you want it to work without it releasing 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. The connector has an exposed part, which inserts into a recessed hole, a female 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, which branches into several openings.
“Be sure to install the pipeline manifold for Brooke’s project.”
Mechatronics: a branch of engineering, which focuses on electrical, mechanical, robotic, and electronic systems.
“Future products of tomorrow will come from the mechatronics field.”
Mickey Mouse: something isn’t done well or it’s worthless.
“The design is a Mickey Mouse job.”
Napkin sketch: a quick unexpected thought sketched 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 many numbers and does a lot of calculations.
“Go give the spreadsheet to the number cruncher to figure out.”
Peach Pits: machinery, which vibrates so much it resembles a dog passing peach pits.
“The peach pits held up well in the startup testing.”
Pear-shaped: 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 malfunctioning equipment, 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 simple 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, checking for human errors.
“The main benefit behind poka yoke solutions are products consumers love.”
Prairie dog event: a loud event in an office with cubicles. From the loudness, everyone pops their heads up to see what’s going on.
“Unquestionably, I just saw the best prairie dog event in all 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 at an all-time high when we received the unfortunate news.”
Relief tube: an old method for allowing pilots to urinate while flying. A device with a funnel and tube attached to a pilot’s seat, which flushes urine outside of a plane.
“Does this old plane come with 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.
“You see the rapid unscheduled disassembly of the 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 for self-interest.
“Go schmooze em so we can 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.
“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: holding off on making a decision, until it can be thought through.
“Let’s sleep on it before issuing the purchase order.”
Spinning my wheels: putting in a lot of effort but not achieving anything worthwhile.
“I’ve been spinning my wheels all day 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. Water can’t travel through a pipe because the valve is blocking the water.
“Joe left steel in the line again.”
Stick a fork in it: something is over, finished completed, or can go no further.
“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 remaining in 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 temperature brings conditions, which further increase temperature. The result is often something failing or blowing up.
“The battery in the equipment experienced thermal runaway.”
Thermal shock: a change in temperature, which causes tension in a material.
“The mounted material experienced a thermal shock.”
Thread: a continuous helical ridge made on the inside or outside of a cylinder. For example, 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 with a bloated technical description. It’s a reminder to engineers to use less jargon in communication 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. An off-the-cuff guess over something.
“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.
“Structurally, the drilled wellbore looks to be safe and secure.”
Wet contact: a contact’s controlling source voltage is from the device itself.
“We don’t want voltage in this device from a foreign source. So, supply a wet contact device.”
Hopefully, you picked up a new word or two, while getting a good laugh. All in all, you can now better understand engineering lingo, and talk the talk.
What are your favorite engineering slang words and expressions? Which engineering slang words and expressions do you find the most strange?
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Koosha started Engineer Calcs in 2020 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 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, our history and future, sports, and fitness.