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Funny Electrical and Construction Expressions

by Chris Lee | November 11th, 2016
English is a funny language, full of idiom that probably made sense at the time but remain in the language long past the point that the common meaning easily comes to mind. The construction industry  has its fair share of these interesting expressions and funny construction sayings, but we often forget their everyday meanings. Here's a quick look at some common construction expressions and funny electricity sayings.

Funny Electrical and Construction Expressions

Cattywampus: One of my granddad's favorite, this referred to something that was not level, square or plumb, or some combination of the three. Later in life, he used it to refer to anything that wasn't quite right, whether it was a beef cow that wasn't looking right or how a politician represented himself. Old Saw: An old, commonly repeated saying or expression. This may have come from the idea that a commonly known and said expression would have sounded like an old saw, or a steady, repetitive noise, when it was being quoted. Get a Charge Out of Something: When electricity was still in its pioneering days, it was used in a number of different ways, including charging batteries. To get a charge out of something suggests that it provides energy, such as the power that goes into a battery during charging. Hard or Tough as Nails: Nails were developed to take the place of wood pegs and similar fasteners as they provided superior strength in a smaller area. To be as hard as nails suggests determination or refusal to bend on an issue while tough as nails suggests an unwillingness to stop when others would have done so. You Can't Make Bricks Without Straw: Though this doesn't tie in with today's modern production of bricks, straw was originally incorporated to tie the entire matrix together, much like rebar or mesh in concrete. Get a Foot in the Door: When salesmen would still go door to door, they probably had a number of doors slammed in their faces. To stick a foot in the door before it closed represented a better chance at an opportunity for a sale, hence the phrase being used to suggest an advantage at gaining an opportunity. Hit the Nail on the Head: Commonly used to denote the accuracy of a statement, hitting the nail on the head suggests hitting the mark or intended target, whether in construction or a statement. Down the Drain: When a particular project or task is failing, it's often referred to as going down the drain, to denote that the failure will kill the project. Shed Some Light: Before electric lights were the norm, light was provided by portable candles or lamps. These light sources were usually used for portable task lighting, so shedding some light or illuminating an issue has to do with moving the task light to where it was needed for the job at hand. Lay the Groundwork: A building is almost always started by preparing the foundation or groundwork to ensure the rest of the project will have a solid start. Therefore laying the groundwork became a common expression for creating a solid base for a project. Pick and Shovel Work: This expression could have come out of either mining or excavation work. Typically, pick and shovel work was monotonous, repetitive work that was involved in great earthmoving projects when a structure's foundation was getting ready to be put down. Spark Interest: When electricity was being pioneered, the spark produced from static or electromagnetic electricity tended to be much brighter than candle or lamp light. Therefore to spark someone's interest suggested a stronger attention to that aspect than would otherwise be common. Set in Concrete: When concrete sets up, it's virtually impossible to remove something from it, so when something is set in concrete, it means it's unchangeable. Smoke Like a Chimney: Though combustion science and engineering has come a long way over the centuries, the original chimneys would produce extensive smoke from poor combustion, damp fuel and similar issues, so someone who smokes tobacco extensively is said to smoke like a chimney. Stonewall: When buildings were excavated, smaller or poor quality stones were often removed and then turned into walls elsewhere on the property. Because they were dense and difficult to tear down, to stonewall a person or project became known as a way to stop it or prevent progress. Like a Ton of Bricks: Bricks are, well, rather dense. They weigh much more than they appear to when you're used to working with wood and lighter weight material. Therefore the expression came about to be hit “like a ton of bricks” to suggest being hit hard and solidly, whether physically or metaphorically. Blow a Fuse: Fuses used to be much more common in electrical panels. Much as putting too high a load on a circuit will now trip a breaker, fuses would heat up and melt the wire that completed the circuit, which is why it's used to refer to someone who gets angry or upset over having too heavy a load emotionally. Paper Over the Cracks: Going back to when buildings used traditional lime plasters, cracks would appear when poor construction caused cracking. Wallpaper was put over the cracked walls to improve the appearance without fixing the root of the problem, hence the saying that refers to covering over poor quality or problems. Nuts and Bolts: When builders did their own machine maintenance, keeping track of all the parts was vital, so nuts and bolts was an expression to denote the important parts of a deal. Much as old expressions stay in the industry, old practices are also held onto, often well beyond the point that they are practical. Digitization is a new way of doing things and it's upsetting the market share of the traditional construction business. Esticom's electrical estimation solutions gives you tomorrow's capabilities today. Take a couple minutes to sign up for an account and a free trial to see what the future holds.
Chris Lee
Chris Lee has an extensive background in preconstruction management as a former specialty contractor and business owner. As the Chief Estimator at Esticom, he’s helped thousands of specialty contractors digitize their preconstruction process to increase revenue and profitability while decreasing unnecessary overhead.

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