Monday, November 7, 2016


With the possible exception of sailors, building contractors have the most colorful jargon around. Like Navy expressions, many of their gems can’t be repeated in polite company such as yourself. However, should you ever need to translate jobsite jargon, here are a few excerpts from the contractor’s lexicon:

A big mess of #4 bars.
Almost nothing on a construction site is called by its technical name, probably because no contractor has time to use such unwieldy terms. Instead, technical jargon is boiled down to monosyllables: reinforcing steel is “bar”; gypsum wallboard is “rock”; joint taping compound is “mud”.

The name-change game isn’t always logical, either.  For instance, I knew several contractors who were fond of replacing the names of objects with the word “puppy”.  Thus, a well-braced post might elicit a comment such as, “That puppy ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

Another contractor liked to describe framing of dubious strength as “flappin’ in the breeze”.  Such terms could also be combined in rather original ways. I once arrived at a job site to be told by a worried foreman:  “Check out the ridge beam.  That puppy is flappin’ in the breeze.”
A bucket of mud for taping rock.

Tools also possess unique names. A framer who needs to correct a misaligned wall does so by getting out the “persuader” or “micro adjuster”—that is, a sledge hammer.  If the wall refuses to respond despite vigorous micro adjustment, some wag will inevitably deadpan, “Don’t force it it—use a bigger hammer.”

Another type of framing hammer with a special knurled face is fondly known as a “meat tenderizer” in deference to its superior thumb-smashing ability. Then there’s the “blood blister”, a cast iron nail puller with a sliding weight notorious for pinching the web between your thumb and index finger.
There are even names for tools that don’t exist, most of them used to initiate naive young hires. Suppose, for example, that a young carpenter cuts an expensive piece of lumber a half-inch too short.
A room all rocked and mudded.

“No problem,” the foreman will tell him with dead earnestness.  “Just take it over to the board stretcher.”  The newcomer will ask at least a half-dozen sniggering coworkers for directions to the board stretcher before he gets the joke.  

In the contractor's lexicon, architects earn special nomenclature as well. I once overheard a foreman direct his carpenter to the blueprints with this phrase: “Go look in the Funny Papers.” And many a job foreman has this notice on his wall:

A "blood blister"—technically known as a
slide hammer. The handle portion at upper right
comes rocketing down the shank, usually onto
the web between your thumb and forefinger.
“An engineer is a person who knows a great deal about very little. An architect is a person who knows very little about a great deal. A contractor is a person who starts out knowing a great deal about almost everything, but through his contact with architects and engineers, ends up knowing almost nothing about anything.”

Finally, although both architects and contractors are often thought to be notoriously dull-witted businessmen, I once learned an invaluable estimating term from a contractor friend. We were reviewing a bid for a very indecisive and capricious client. The items were carefully tabulated— “Windows, $9,850, Countertops, $6,370” and so on.  However, below the subtotal was a cryptic entry that read: “I.F.—add 20%”

“What’s 'I.F.'?” I asked him.

“Irritation Factor,” he replied.

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