Coming to Terms

By Eric David | Sep 15, 2003




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One factor in learning a new occupation or system is mastering the language being used, or at least the basic meanings of words. Word confusion affects every industry. Take the computer instruction to hit any key. Hilarious stories abound with people looking for the “any” key, and an entrepreneur actually makes such a key to install on your computer. The electrical industry is no different. Beginning estimators are often confused by the nomenclature.

The fact that the same product can have varying names does not help the learning situation. Many common acceptable terms can also vary by geographic area. An example is the Code name for flexible metal conduit. In the East, this conduit is often referred to as Greenfield, reputed to be the originator of the conduit, while in the West it is referred to as “flex.”

Box references are similarly regional. In most cases, the description will be the catalog number of the prevailing manufacturer in the area. But industry slang also creeps into the descriptor. For example, 1/2-inch-deep round boxes used for some special installations are frequently referred to as pancake boxes. In another example, the Code may refer to a 4 11/16-inch box, while the trade will refer to them as a 5-inch box. A tip for beginning estimators is to write the local or company nomenclature for a particular box next to the dimensions on table 316.16(A) in the 2002 edition of the Code.

Some words have double meanings and may promote thoughts of other endeavors. Take the “stud,” for example. This is a fitting that is used for hanging some types of fixtures. If the stud has four ears that will accept bolts for fastening it to a box, the fitting is called a “crow’s foot.” One of the devices that fit onto studs is called a “harp,” but is used to pass wires from the box to a pendant stem, a small-diameter pipe used to support lighting fixtures. The harp or stud is also referred to as a “hickey.” A hickey can also designate a rigid conduit bender whose origin was from a company named “Hickey” and is still producing these tools with the name prominently displayed.

When the Code or price indexes refer to fixture connectors, they mean Wirenuts, Scotchlocks, Wingnuts and the many other products that basically perform a splicing function of wires. There are other means of doing this task and a great variety of other types of devices that accomplish the same end—to make a secure and low resistance connection.

One conduits system used in the industry is Armored Cable, also known as BX. When installing this system, the installer will need “red devils,” which are insulators that must be installed into the end of T-cut cable; the devil part comes from the problems these things can be when installing them in older insulated cables.

The housing industry uses many feet of “rope,” which is the same as “Romex,” and that name comes from the originator of non-metallic-sheathed cable, its Code designation. Rome Cable was the originator of this type of wiring. Another proprietary name that has stuck is “Condulets,” which are conduit bodies manufactured by Crouse Hinds. Other manufacturers produce similar products that all come under the generic heading of conduit bodies.

Feeders are a confusing topic to some. Here again is an instance when the definitions in the Code book should be your reference. The definitions in Article 100 are complete to the extent that it omits some specialty items, but those are covered in their specific articles. An example is the definitions for Healthcare Facilities listed in Article 517 of the Code.

One helpful reference can be found at However, the site can’t include all the variances of descriptive terms. Learning the terminology will certainly be of help when talking to suppliers or dealing with installation crews.

Starting estimators should be ready for some pranks such as someone wanting a bucket to catch the IR drops and the one about a left-handed adjustable wrench. Just flow with the gag, it’ll save a lot of aggravation. EC

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at [email protected]


About The Author

Eric David is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach (Calif.) City College, a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at 562.597.1877 or at [email protected].


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