TRADEslang.com features a list of slang electrical terms for electrical products as well as a list of resources.
David Weinstein, general manager of Kennedy Electric, Jamaica, N.Y., is speaking a foreign language.
“I want a 50-foot slippery eel, give me a couple of snake eyes with that … I want a bucket of soap, I need a split coupling and throw in a can of smoke test … yeah, might as well get a sister hook and a sit-n-spin.”
“This will mean something to me,” said Weinstein. “If you've been in this industry a while, it'll mean something to you.”
For those who don't know what the above jargon means, Weinstein created TRADEslang.com, his Web site for the slang terminology of the electrical industry. The site is meant to answer questions for people in all segments of the industry who don't have a clue — yet.
Terms like “fluorescent hook hickey,” “goof plate” or “Mae West” might not mean a lot to newcomers. But with careful study of Weinstein's site, nobody gets yelled at for shipping the wrong products.
TRADEslang features a list of slang terms for electrical products, as well as a list of resources where those slang terms might be found, in the book list section. In the “Oldtimer” section, the site offers stories about the origins of the terminology. In addition, the site is open to feedback from people in the field and is continually being updated.
“The old timers, the guys that have been around a long time, they don't even think about it. So when I started this project 15 years ago, it was so that I could take an order and not have to ask the same dumb question over and over.”
Although Weinstein is one of the owners of Kennedy Electric and its branches, he said it was his experiences nearer the bottom of the company ladder that were the impetus of the Web site.
“My experience in the business has been, (from) the guy in the pipe yard,” he said. “I've been on the truck making deliveries, I've done receiving, I've run the warehouse, and I've taken over operations for one branch and then multiple branches. Now I'm the general manager.”
My need for this was created initially as a counter man. It's an amazing tool for training people.”
TRADEslang, he said, can prevent expensive errors in the fulfilling process.
“I think it's most valuable to the new people in the business: manufacturer, rep, distributor or expediting guy for a contractor. He's asking all day long what things are. He knows people are getting frustrated hearing from him. After a while, you don't want to ask any more, then you start making mistakes.”
The site helps avoid those errors by cutting down on the number of occasions in which a distributor has to bother his superiors.
“I've found in many cases people don't want to admit what they don't know,” Weinstein said. “It's kind of a human trait.”
Weinstein said that this list started as something entirely ordinary for a guy working the counter at an electrical distributor.
“As we hired people from other companies, we found that this was kind of the norm,” Weinstein said. “People do this all around the industry. They don't call it slang, they call it a coding sheet.”
Where Weinstein's idea diverged from the norm was his way of sharing it. He said a lot of people tend to keep this kind of information to themselves, but his company developed a need for wider use of this list.
“The reason the Web site was started was to (employ) my list as we went from one branch to four branches. It's easier for me to tell people, just go to tradeslang.com. It's a place that I can share the information with other distributors I work with.”
Weinstein said he has not enlisted any professional Web design help, so sometimes updates can't keep up with the volume of new material. He said that is all that keeps the site from becoming a more complete lexicon of industry terminology.
“This is a no-budget process,” Weinstein said. “I pay for this out of my pocket every year. It's time consuming. What's stopping it from growing … is the time, literally, to take this stuff and convert it to Web text and publish it.”
Weinstein has about 300 terms online right now and he said he has around 10 handwritten pages of new terms yet to be added.
Given the time and expense involved, one might wonder what motivates Weinstein to keep going.
Although it's easy to see why TRADEslang is valuable to Kennedy Electric, Weinstein talks less about his passion for studying the origins and growth of the electrical industry.
“I enjoy the history behind these things. I started researching the history and to do that I had to build a collection of books so that I could find the origins of the stuff,” he said.
The “Oldtimer” section of the site is where Weinstein's personal interest leaks through. The stories he accumulates about the origins of product slang are at the same time humorous and informative. They range from tales of rival manufacturers naming parts using veiled profanity (as in the 4Q fittings), to insights into old industry practices (like details of using molten lead in wire splicing).
For Weinstein's part, they are the result of lengthy research into old industry publications.
“A group of men called the Westinghouse men put together this group called the electric league (around 1904),” he said. “And every month they put out a publication. Then they compiled them into books each year. There are stories in there that are just incredible.”
Weinstein collects those books and uses them as research tools and ammunition for “Oldtimer” stories.
TRADEslang has progressed from a handwritten sheet of paper to a computer spreadsheet to a Web site. In the future, Weinstein said TRADEslang could take on other forms.
“Eventually, I could see printing it in a book and using it as a tool for manufacturers, reps and distributors,” he said.
Perhaps the only downside to this list is the elimination of hours of fun at the expense of industry novices. Weinstein's site includes the prank items that contractors send the new kids after when they want to see them chase their tails.
“Every couple of years, someone will come in and say this guy wants a skyhook,” he said. After they've exhausted every means of finding said nonexistent item, he said someone would generally inform them that they've been duped.
So, here's some free advice courtesy of Dave Weinstein's Web site. If a foreman asks you for a “bucket of steam,” TRADEslang can spare you hours of grief from the old timers.
Editor's Note: Do you sling any unusual slang with your electrical buddies? If so, David Weinstein would like to hear about it. Give him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.