Microwave Slang

Click here to read some engineering jokes we have compiled

On this page we will decode some of the terminology you might hear around the microwave lab (or on this web site), a must-read for microwave neophytes and managers alike. If you are interested in this topic, maybe you should visit our acronym dictionary as well.

Does the IEEE or any trade rag provide microwave slang? No!!! That's why we're here, to serve the people of the microwave industry with only the most useful, timely and timeless information.

Attention microwave rap artists! Send in your favorite microwave slang terminology!

Here's one engineer's collection of aerospace slang, it's from Carl F. Gauze who works at Anonymous Aerospace. Click here to download it! (Danger Will Robinson, this document contains the F-word, so don't download it if you have a problem with that!)

Adult supervision
Management or business people. Often the best technology comes from the sandbox that has the least adult supervision. Microwaves101 doesn't have any adult supervision, look where that got us!

Armageddon Chart
If you work for a defense contractor, you know that every presentation must contain an Armageddon chart. It doesn't have to have any particular relevance, someone with a crewcut in the audience will jump in to help explain it. Or you could start by using President Obama's explanation to Mitt Romney: we have these ships that go underwater... Here's one you can always use, it was released by the Navy for public use. Click it to zoom into five megabytes of battle!

Air Force
"Sorce" (or perhaps "source"), meaning "sauce", as in "let's have some Air Force fer me chips, mate". OK, this has nothing to do with microwave slang, it's Cockney rhyming slang, and you need a lesson in it, to make you a well-rounded individual! Click here for a cool Cockney slang web site! Granger, Will Robinson!

And we thank him (her) for his many years of service...
You can tell how far a C-level executive screwed up before they departed their company when the press release spends three paragraphs on the new guy, and one sentence on the old one, which includes thanking them for their years of service and nothing else. In reality, they were fired.  What really sucks is when they get a big payout on the way out.

Abbreviation for Adhesive Shielding Strip, the aluminum shielding tape used throughout the microwave industry, especially in EMI labs. (Hey Joe, to reduce that spur, let's put a little A S S on it). Thanks to Terry!

What you get good at when you work the boneyard.

Ballin' the jack
A dance craze from 100 years ago, before that African-American railroad slang for running at full throttle. Our suggested use is when you are load pulling a power device that is setting a new power benchmark, it's ballin' the jack. "Ballin' " comes from "highball", meaning to have a good time. The "jack" originally meant the locomotive, referring to the jackass that pulls a heavy cart. Bring on those silicon carbide devices! But wait, here's another explanation for highballing, courtesy of Chip: For the expression ballin' the jack you talk about highball as having a good time and there is also a reference to going very fast. Old steam engines with a governor had brass balls that move up and down as they spin faster or slower. When the governor was fully engaged, the engine was going as fast as it could and the balls were as high as they could go-thus highballin'. Hey, we like Chip's explanation better!

Ball-Pein Calibrator
Also spelled Ball-Peen. A simple ball-pein hammer; used to hit an electronic device with the expectation that the impact will "reset" the device to its designed and "Calibrated" operational state.  Sometimes striking a device with a ball-pein calibrator greatly increases morale.  An example would be, "Dad, I did a Ball-Pein Calibration on this Receiver and it's still not working; you want me to do a Drop-Reset?" Thanks to Mardy!

Barney Fife
Particularly if you work in the defense industry, a "Barney Fife" is a security guard in your facility. In the old Andy Griffith television show, Barney was only allowed one bullet, which he had to keep in his shirt pocket, because he was prone to accidentally discharging his weapon if it was loaded. Modern Barney Fifes have too much firepower, some even have radar guns and are authorized to write pretend speeding tickets. The only two requirements for becoming a Barney Fife are 1) score lower that a certain number on an intelligence test and 2) have a history of being a bully, or being bullied in high school. In all seriousness, the late Don Knotts was a comic genius.  Here is a "Mayberry" episode that includes some gun instruction. Amazon has plenty of Barney Fife products for your personal tribute.  If you live in south west Virginia, you can still watch reruns of the show broadcast every week night.


Bart's head
Bart's head is the colloquial term for the waveform in the frequency domain of a CDMA signal as viewed on a spectrum analyzer. When operating correctly, it looks a lot like Bart Simpson's head. Square sides, kind of choppy on the top.

You might hear something like; ' I looked at the Bart's head at the antenna port, and it rolls pretty sharply, I think the duplexer is tweaked" Thanks to Scott! . Buy a poster of Bart here!

Click the image of Bart to the right, to see a CDMA plot.


The label applied to everything you want to get rid of that doesn't fit in a trash can, Spanish for trash. "Rancho Basura" would be a great name for that housing development that KB Homes is building on top of the town dump. "Oh Honey, I love that development, it sounds so southwestern!"

Batman response
This in from Chip...in the good old days, when filters could be tuned on an o'scope (using a coupler and a crystal detector) and a more linear phase was required you tuned the band edges to have peaks with a drop off inband and then a gentle rise thru most of the band to the other band edge and its peak. This was aptly named the "Batman response" (the top of Batman's head and cowling along with the two ears). UE: we'd used this explanation for amplifier responses that were unstable at the band edges. Haven't heard that one in years!

These images came from Jim, who explains:

In the course of sweeping filters for 3dB bandwidth pass/fail, I mistakenly hit the FM modulation button.

With TRACE set to MAX HOLD, I instantly recognized what I was seeing, thanks to the Microwaves101 Encyclopedia.

Attached please find two jpegs of the resulting Batman Diagram, so people can get the full visual impact.

Be sure to click on them to read the labels...


Bazooka Joe graph
A graph in a presentation or document that is so small it is rendered unreadable by the human eye alone. Refers to the hapless hero of tiny comic-strip fame. Often employed as a marketing tool in catalogs by vendors that don't want you to know exactly how much insertion loss that switch has. Here's some other hints on how to play this game: plot parameters that are far apart in value on the same axis, like all four S-parameters of an amplifier. Use the color yellow against a dark background if you really want to hide something. For maximum unreadability, be sure to use a tiny font.

Being "called on the carpet"
You are in trouble, but it's not as bad at going to the woodshed.

Belt and suspenders
When you design something with added safety margin!

Big balls and tight balls
Another one from Chip...I used to design combline filters and used the network analyzer to tune on a smith chart/polar display. The term "big balls" (not the AC/DC song) indicated the problem was at the load side of the device. "Tight balls" indicate good VSWR existed or could be easily obtained by centering the tight balls on the Smith chart.

Big Company Disease
There is much written on this topic on the worldwide web, we will offer the simple definition that if your company employs six or more people to perform work that could reasonably be done by one person, you know about big company disease first hand. Big company disease is why small companies are formed (frustrated talent) and then bought (big companies must buy innovation when they don't develop it, and entrepreneurs need to cash out to satisfy their trophy-wives' greed). That's the "Circle of Life" for tech companies!


A satellite. Check out the story of "Bird is the Word" on our page on songs about radar and radio. Thanks to Gary!


A birdie is a spurious response in a radar receiver. Not what you want your fire control; radar to lock onto... Check out the story of "Bird is the Word" on our page on songs about radar and radio. Thanks to Gary, again!

Black box
When you don't have access to the schematic of a component or subsystem that is sealed up in a package that can't be opened, it's called a black box.

Boarding party
Customer group on a fact-finding trip to your lab, to see why you are late and over budget (or a group that your company sends to a vendor for similar harassment, which is much more fun.)

An employee that is so old his/her head is no longer supported well by their turkey-style neck. Pop culture examples include Dr. Laura and Pat Robertson. Guys, it's time to put on the wide white belt and plaid pants and head for the dog tracks in Florida!

Boat anchor
Refers to bulky and heavy test equipment from and earlier epoch, most often bearing the name Hewlett Packard. Old spectrum analyzers and synthesizers are among the most effective boat anchors.

When someone hogs a piece of test equipment that is needed elsewhere, they are Bogarting. As in, "the Professor sure likes to Bogart that new synthesizer." The origin of this expression is well known to anyone who attended a college party in the past 30 years.

But wait, this definition is wrong, as pointed out by Alex (thanks!)

The original meaning of "Bogart" in the famous song is not "to hog", but "to pinch and throw away the butt of a cigarette" (of whatever kind). The film The Maltese Falcon contains an example of Humphrey Bogart's routine with a cigarette stub.

So the chap in the song is really asking the cigarette holder to allow him to puff away the last little bit of the good stuff, rather than throw it away.

Those we used to call "The Old Wise Ones" would have known this; generations garble the signal in transmission.

Bomb test
A fine leak test for hermeticity in which a module is exposed to helium at pressure above one atmosphere, then a "sniffer" is used to detect helium escaping helium, indicating a leak.

A collection of production assemblies that failed acceptance test. Often used as a low-cost source of shippable hardware, around the 29th of the month. Sample dialogue: hey Joe, get your butt out here and work the bonepile, we need to make the numbers this month or it's pink slip blizzard time!

Bowling, as in "going bowling"
We're not talking about the silly tenpin that allows people who are obese and smoke to have a sport that they they can be good at... going bowling is serious stuff. It involves going to a Chinese restaurant, and drinking multiple scorpion bowls. Below we see test engineer "Jeph" (name changed to protect the guilty) going bowling with all of the college coed co-op students that won't even look at you... while you work late plotting the data he dumped on you. Now who's you daddy? Thanks for the pic, Casi, and we wish we were there!

Bravo Sierra
Military jargon for "BS".

Breadboard (or brassboard)
The phase of a project where the initial hardware is built, usually not form-factored. In microwaves, sometimes "brassboard" is used, because hardware often involves machined housings.

Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job
If your boss tells you this, it means you will be out of a job in less than a week, and you can expect to get hauled into Congress to testify soon. From Michael Brown, ex-FEMA director, who couldn't find his backside using both hands after the 2005 New Orleans flood. As Captain Safety might say, "Worn-out tools can injure fools!"

Brown Team
Perhaps your company has different colors for proposal efforts, such as red team, blue team, etc. We don't care about those colors, it is the brown team onto which the pipe flows all problems. You get to work on Thanksgiving, because the Red Team didn't like your stuff!

A Yiddish word that translates most accurately to the American word "squat". Bupkis means "nothing", as in "Mayor McCheese doesn't know bupkis about technology!" It's funny, a lot of people will look at you funny because they thought you just said "butt-kiss", these ignorant folks probably went to Southern Methodist University and were deprived of having friends with Jewish grandmothers. Diversity is a beautiful thing!

Burning platform
A polite way of saying your business unit is screwed, but at the same time it says that you care about Six Sigma, fooling Mayor McCheese into helping you survive the pink-slip blizzard.

The act of harvesting components and parts off another device for use as replacement or modification.  An example would be, "Son, go find a Transmitter in the boneyard and Cannibalize the Cap Key out of it." Thanks to Mardy!

Captain Safety
Particularly if you work in a large factory or government installation that has ever had an accident make the papers, more and more you will be reminded how safety is important. Captain Safety is becoming a time-waster of colossal proportions, as you'll have to endure lectures on cubicle safety, the correct way to tie your shoes and such. Imagine working at NASA, following the Challenger disaster, and then having to take an on-line class on avoiding paper cuts... don't cheat and try to skip to the quiz, you might not get credit for this "training" if the window isn't open for 1/2 hour! If anyone would like to draw a caricature of Captain Safety, send it in and you might win both fame and fortune!

Typically, a 10-volt-rated capacitor, operated at 12V and elevated temperature.  It's just a matter of time before it zaps! See field return.

Charm school
The weekend retreat where they send would-be managers to see if they have the right stuff. When one of your friends goes to charm school, expect stories that begin with "we had two hot girls in the limo at 3 AM the night before we got our certificates and you wouldn't believe..."

Chicken dots!
Artwork features that don't affect the design, but facilitate tuning later. Gold chicken dots give you something to stick ribbon bonds to. This design practice dates back to when CAD tools were inaccurate, today you are better off spending the time to accurately predict design performance, and minimize the use of chicken dots. If you overdue it they can actually couple to transmission lines, pulling impedances out of whack and cause more harm than good. Thanks for the advice, Chip!  Go to our page on chip-and-wire construction and you will see some chicken dots. Better still, visit our new page on chicken dots!

Often a small alumina substrate is referred to as a Chiclet, because it is white and rectangular. If you mistake it for gum you are looking at some expensive dental work! Note that the origin of the word chiclet is from "chicle", a rubbery substance, not chickens and certainly not a from the slang term for young women.

Chinese R&D
Receive and duplicate. Thanks to Don!

In pulsed radar, the RF tone is made to vary with frequency during the pulse. Kind of like the audio "pulse" a bird puts out when it is looking for love.

Bird chirping

A play on the words Chinese and ITAR, referring to the loss of intellectual property to that most populous country in Asia. Droves of Chinese engineers show up at certain professional venues and later introduce products that you might easily recognize. Used in a sentence: "the boss will never let you give your talk at the IMAPS conference, that organization is totally ChiTAR".

It's just a matter of time before they learn all of our secrets...

An RF choke is typically a series element such as as inductor or resistor that passes direct current but blocks RF energy.

Circle of Life
See "Big Company disease".

Close enough for government work
This is the equivalent of a carpenter saying "you can't see it from my house". Implies low workmanship standards. Sorry, Uncle Sam!

Color of money
We had this definition all wrong previously, it has been corrected by Paul. Thanks!

The term color of money refers to what budget the money is coming from, such as Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E), Operations and Maintenance (O&M), and Military Construction (MILCON) among others.

Come to Jesus meeting
This saying originated in the religious camps on the New Jersey shore in the 19th century, such as the community of Ocean Grove. A Come to Jesus meeting in laboratory context means a meeting in which some cold hard truth will be revealed, like a contract is about to be canceled. Similar to "going to the woodshed".

Connector Copulation
A condition where the insertion length engagement of a male connector inside a female mating connector (typically coaxial) is instantaneously varied due to vibration induced differential motion between the two connectorized subassemblies. This results in phase noise. If the vibration input is a sinusoidal source (like an helocopter propeller) , it will result in a modulation induced sideband on a frequency source or signal. If the vibration input remains coherent with itself, it can vector integrate in the pulse matched filter of a radar and show up as a false target. Reduction of connector copulation will also significantly reduce fretting, the wear and sometimes corrosion damage at the asperities of contact surfaces. Thanks to Terry!

Corporate Tool shirt

If you go to trade shows, conferences or college recruiting trips, you will be issued a Corporate Tool shirt. This can find its best use as a painting or landscaping shirt. Be sure to rip it up. Tell your boss you lost it.

If your company is missing this shirt, why don't you come over my house and ask for it nicely?

If you say something that is too revealing in front of a customer, your boss might interrupt you to suggest that you will receive counseling after the meeting. Similar to going to the woodshed, except the focus is on what you can and cannot say when The Wallet is in the room.

Cut a ruby
This dates way back to when artwork was done with an X-Acto knife and a straightedge. Ruby lithography gets its name from the ruby-red color of the features that are masked.

correcting over-exhuberant scratting with electrically conductive paint and a triple zero brush - why sniff glue when you've got this? (excellent input, HB of Filtronic!) Dagging and scratting is not to be confused with "hugging and chalking", an amusing song by Hoagy Carmichael about romancing a supersized woman. If you need to put chalk marks on your old lady to know where you started hugging her, she might need to put down the fork.

Here's an alternate, non-microwave definition of "dagging", from Gary from New Zealand:

Here in NZ, though, "dagging" refers to an ancient, necessary but somewhat dangerous and rather unpleasant farm skill involving the removal of dags from a sheep's non-face-end with a portable shearing unit known as a dagger.

And from Phil:

"Dagging" may come from the common conductive glop called DAG, for "dispersed aqueous graphite".  AquaDAG is one common variety.  It's used for electrostatic shielding of photomultipliers and for all sorts of lab jobs--sort of like conductive duct tape.

Danger Will Robinson!
Our robot friend used to say this, it can only mean trouble of the worst kind.

Unit of inverse capacitance.  Thanks to Chris Steele, who once said, "if there are mhos, there oughta be darafs"  Usage: "My car runs on a .001 Daraf (or 1000 microDaraf) capacitor." Thanks to Dan!

Daughter board
A printed circuit board that is added to a larger printed circuit board, often the result of modifications during breadboard phase.

Dead bug
This term applies to when you mount an integrated circuit upside down, and white-wire it into the breadboard circuit. So called because the IC looks like it died and pointed its tiny feet up at the ceiling.

Using some measurements of calibration standards and some algebra to unimportant parts of a measurement, usually the connectors on input and output. A true science, but so far we haven't discussed it yet on Microwaves101.

In our slang dictionary, deep-six is a verb, meaning "to discard". As in, "deep-six that epoxy and get me some fresh (stuff)". We originally stated that deep-six comes from the tradition of burying bodies at least six feet under to prevent coyotes from snacking on the dear departed. But an alert reader has pointed out that the expression has nautical roots, and originally referred to a depth of six fathoms (36 feet). Objects that fall overboard to that depth are not going to be easy to recover. Thanks to Dave!

Further input from Phil:

"Deep six" is indeed six fathoms,  not six feet, but it's still terminal--traditionally it's the minimum depth in which you can bury someone at sea. (Current US naval regs specify a minimum of 600 feet and 3 miles from shore, off the continental shelf.)  Also, when taking soundings, when you're between seven and eight fathoms depth, the boatswain calls, "By the deep, seven." See e.g.


Deep yogurt
Hey, this is a family web page, we can't use the s-word! Refers to the opposite of "good times".

Dent tuning
Sometimes this is how you improve the RF performance of waveguide hardware.

Diddle stick
A nonmetallic implement used to tune circuits, often a toothpick or broken Q-tip. Usually a small bit of metal is attached to the tip to act as a tuning stub for messing with microstrip circuits. Thanks to Jim!

Dilbert moment
A special moment where everyone in the meeting room realizes simultaneously that based on what the Manager has just stated or presented that they all will very soon be referenced in a Dilbert Comic Strip fame.

A parabolic reflector.

Dog and Pony Show
A PowerPoint presentation for a customer. Better wear a necktie!

Dog bone
Often an integrated circuit is designed to be wirebonded to a substrate interconnect that has capacitive flares at the interface. These flares are sometimes called dog bones.

A radome.

Down to seeds and stems
At the end of a project when the money runs out, the account is down to seeds and stems. Ask your teenage kid for an explanation if you need one.

Drinking your own bath water
Quite often engineers get enamored with their pet technology so much that they fail to see its faults, or that it was just a research project with no other aim than bleeding off some government money. Next time someone suggests that their MEMS switch could be "easily redesigned to handle 1000 watts at Ka-band", point out that they are drinking their own bath water, then tell them to shut their pie hole before someone places an order. But when you think about it, your own bath water is better for drinking than some else's, right?

Dropping an electronic device (radio, test set, analyzer, etc.) on a bench, table, or the floor.  Sometimes the drop will "reset" the device, and life is good; frequently, the drop will prove that its current steady-state will continue on as its only state and qualifies the device for the boneyard.  An example would be, "Son, will you perform a Drop-Reset on that Transmitter; if it resets, put it back in the rack.  If not, put it in the boneyard." Thanks to Mardy!

Drop the vernacular
If your program manager says that you use too much slang at a review, every Curley fan knows that there is only one response to the phrase "drop the vernacular", just say "Vernacular?, It's a Doiby!"

To "dry-lab the data" means to fake it. A correct usage: President Bush dry-labbed the Iraq WMD data. The origination of the work is in chemistry, where a "wet" experiment is left unperformed. Faking data is always a bad move, do it regularly and you will get caught, like when Dateline caught Dr. Patel in 2011... watch the video below and you might understand why this is another area that the government really should regulate. Like banks, Wall Street, the environment, there are always greedy people that require close supervision for the common good. So far, Dr. Patel is still in business, as there is no government regulation of dietary supplements or the people that test them. Examples of dry-labbing in microwave production facilities include qualification data.... honest, we did 250 thermal cycles on your hardware....

Atlas Labs gets caught

Due diligence
What must be done after you have "gone to the woodshed".....

Dufus is a term well known on a certain production line, where 70's era stripline boards are assembled into a wide-band receiver.  If anyone can tell us how it got its name we'd appreciate it! In a stripline receiver, components are inserted into cut-outs in the board and metal ground-planes are tack-welded over them.  Discrete components in a stripline assembly could include Schottky diodes, PIN diodes, tunnel diodes and terminations for examples, typically packaged in pill-style packages like this one.  Dufus is a dielectrically-loaded liquid material (silicone with alumina powder?) that is injected into gaps in a board caused by dimensional tolerances owing to "Exacto-construction".  Is your three-channel receiver not passing phase tracking? Have the assembler tear off the ground-plane and squirt in some more Dufus! 

Dump resistors
Isolation resistors in power combiners are sometimes referred to as dump resistors, because this is where power that didn't get combined is dissipated.

Egg crate construction
Often use in constructing deep antennas from planar boards. Rows and columns fit together like an egg crate. Often use to provide deep Vivaldi antenna elements like this patent.

EMI testing
A black hole in the schedule and budget, where you are at the mercy of a so-called expert that has a certificate from some Consultants you never heard of. There are of course exceptions to this rule, as the Unknown Editor is related to an EMI engineer!

Empty suit
Known alternatively as simply "the suit". Refers to the CEO, CFO or other bigwigs of your company. As in, "look busy, here comes an empty suit!" In the case of M/A-COM employees, you could also refer to the empty suit as "the felon".

Fearless Leader
A reference to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cold-war cartoons, Fearless Leader was Boris Badenov's boss. We apply this term of endearment to all project leaders, managers or other authority figures that take credit for your successes, take no credit for failures, and in general don't have a clue as to what you're trying to accomplish! Don't say "The Fearless Leader", just refer to "Fearless Leader" as a proper name or you'll be screwing up this unique reference that no one under the age of 40 will get!

Here's some Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle trivia: who was Fearless Leader's (unseen) boss? Mr. Big!


Field return
This is what happens when your customer is dissatisfied with your product. They send it back.  Even if they were not using it in a field. It's just an expression!

FiSH! video
If you are called to a meeting that involves the infamous FiSH! video, chances are you are about to get screwed in some way, like a pay freeze, benefit cut or pink slips. Or maybe you will soon be demoted to handling dead fish! Here's a homemade version of the FiSH! video, if they show you the original at work, remember it costs $825 for the 18 minute DVD!

First pass success
Perhaps the most overused expression in the MMIC design community! Here's how it is often employed:

That phase shifter design was first-pass success. In the next mask iteration we only need to recenter the design band and reduce the RMS errors to meet specification.

Let's reveal an undeniable truth here, cowboy! In the history of the microwave world, there has never been a first-pass success MMIC. If there was, it would have been produced on a production mask the first time out. So shut up about it already!

These explanations came from the Arne. Thanks!

"My old man, one of the Greatest Generation, had FOUR such acronyms, from the Army, and so does my uncle, from the Marines.  (Both served in the Pacific Theater during WWII.)  In increasing order of f’d-upedness:

  1. SNAFU (Situation Normal, all F'd up)
  2. TARFU (Things Are Really F’d Up)
  3. FUBAR  (F’d Up Beyond All Recognition) (alternately, beyond repair.. UE)
  4. FUBB (F’d Up Beyond Belief)

I still use these today, though #4 I use less than in the past—probably not because designs are getting better—most likely fewer things engender disbelief.  P^)"

Full metal jacket
A semirigid coax cable (as opposed to a flex cable).

Fuzz button
A type of pressure contact that uses gold-plated copper-beryllium wire twisted and compressed into a springy cylindrical contact. This is a trademark of Tecknit corporation. Captured in an insulating bead, can be used to create a coaxial connection for RF signals. See also pogo pins. Thanks to Zev!

Not a misspelling, but an example of portmanteau, a contraction of the words "gigahertz" and "digital", which can be applied to any system that employs digital circuitry running at microwave speeds. For example, a "gigital receiver" might employ digital-to-analog conversion on a 2 GHz baseband signal. A Microwaves101-exclusive slang term, be our guest and spread it around!

Glamour shot
Back in the previous century when people use to go to something called a mall, there was a store for everything.  Glamour Shots was (is?) a portrait studio where (mostly) women would go to have makeup professionally applied and part with a hundred bucks for a picture.  In engineering, a glamour shot is when you have a photographer take a nice picture of your hardware for presentations, as opposed to that oput-of-focus image you just snapchatted from your $100 HTC.

Going to the woodshed
Getting yelled at, or receiving other punishments for something that you are being held accountable for.

Golden Unit
This is production hardware that has been saved from the pile of possible deliverables that is an example of a part that meets the entire acceptance test. It might be the best part your company ever built! Chances are it was built somewhere between units 10 and 100, before you started to lose the recipe around unit 1000.... It is essential to verifying your automated test equipment, if the Golden Unit doesn't pass ATP, the test equipment is broken, and the units that just failed might actually be OK! Don't ever take apart the Golden Unit, no one knows the tricks that make it work, much less how to put it back together! See also Lab Queen.

Good enough for government work
This expression must date back quite a few wars. "Good enough for government work" means that the "work" being referred to is sloppy and not something to be proud of, ac or a right mess. For the humor-challenged, this is an example of irony. Sometimes stated as "close enough for government work, which does not possess alliterative value. Time to weld the lid on it! In construction, a similar expression is "can't see it from my house".

Good one
When someone says "that's a good one", it means they think you are lying.

Conformal coating and staking, usually some form of uralane, parylene or benzo-cyclo-butene (BCB). As in "when the board finishes test send it upstairs to get gooped".

Government work
When someone is working on their personal stuff out in the lab, they are doing "government work". Like that time you wasted four hours trying to fix a ten dollar pair of earbuds... also known as a "G-job".

Grating lobe
Similar to "trap", grating lobe are sometimes used by system people to describe unknown phased array antenna phenomena, as in "that suck out in the antenna pattern must be due to an unintended grating lobe." Actually, this is a complete misuse of what a the term "grating lobe" means. As pointed out by Luke, a grating lobe is observed when you steer too far with a phased array and the main beam reappears on the wrong side. Learn about this problem and how to avoid it on our phased array page./p>

Green tape refers to low-temperature co-fired ceramic, in it's unfired ("green") state. It comes in rolls, like most tapes, but it is usually green in color. Check out this poem on greentape!

Greybeards, council of
If your company suffers from big company disease, chances are you have roving bands of self-important but slow-working older engineers who look for opportunities to take over cool projects and probably squelch more innovation than they ever provided. If you hear "you don' unnerstand..." coming from someone wearing a cheap toupee and serious coffee breath at your next design review, you are in their sites.

Gumball machine
Slang term for a frequency meter, as in, "Hey Joe, can I borrow your X-band gum ball? Thanks to Joe from Agilent!

Opposite of a natural resource. Can minimally function at most engineering tasks, following process checklist for example, in order to get a salary but can not function as a forward thinking engineer. Often on the payroll due to the theory of relativity.

Hall of Shame
The area in a cabinet reserved for various rejected items and breadboards that never quite worked... thanks to Christopher from Long Island!

Hanger Queen
See "Golden Unit".

Hard line
Limey expression that means "semi-rigid coax".

Hard on
Whoa there, don't let your mind play tricks on you. At every design review on a PIN diode product, you'll hear someone say something about the diodes being "hard on", which implies they are biased in a high-current state, and more milliamps won't decrease the ON resistance. It's in your job description not to snicker, so be ready for this!

Head hunter
Another term for an independent job recruiter, they make money when you take a job that they referred you to. 

Helmet fire
A very bad situation (what could be worse than your helmet catching fire?), usually involving being yelled at by authority figures such as security bullies. An Air Force or Navy flier term that migrated into the engineering lexicon.

Herman wafer
Back in the late 1980s, when larger format pure alumina wafers became available (2x2" and 3x3" instead of 1x1") they were referred to as "Herman wafers", in honor of Hernan Munster.

Holding forth
Holding forth is when one or more people passionately talk about obscure subjects that either no one cares about, or the talkers don't know what they are talking about. Typically happens in a crowded room when alcohol is flowing. Like yoga pants, holding forth can either be a beautiful thing, or the opposite, depending on the hold-forther. Holding forth does not include sports babble (who cares?)  The book "The View form Nowhere" by Jim Atkinson (1987, well before lists of everything took over the internet) about American dive bars included a holding forth rating category. The worst example might be listening to the same tired stories of someone's childhood that you have heard a million times and perhaps lived through yourself (think: alpha-male relative at Thanksgiving dinner).  There's a song about holding forth, by the group America, a number-one hit in 1974:

Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man
That he didn't, didn't already have
And cause never was the reason for the evening
Or the tropic of Sir Galahad.

Tin Man by America

Hook, as in "design hook"
A hook is a feature in a design that allows you to adjust the performance during prototype phase.  It can be a select-at-test component, chicken dots, removable airbridges on a MMIC design that change performance.  Programmers seem to have adopted this word.  Many hardware engineers believe we used this term first, we were the original designers.

A coax cable. Thanks to Steve!

Hot switching
In high-power switches you should worry about the order that you switch the RF and control signals on and off. If you leave the RF on, and throw the logic from one state to the other, that is called hot switching. The "DC control" signal could include the bias to an amplifier in a transmitter. Hot switching can put your hardware into the microwave mortuary.

World's worst choice for a personal computer. Synonymous with "lock-up".

Hybrid circuits
This is applied to any microwave circuit that employs a hermetic housing, alumina thin-film networks, and chip-and wire construction. It's called a hybrid because it's a combination of discrete devices and printed circuit (or thin-film) technology, in a single unit, as opposed to a monolithic circuit (everything on a single "stone".) Thanks, Norm!

Hybrid couplers (or junctions)
The special case of a four-port directional coupler that is designed for a 3-dB (equal) power split. Hybrid couplers come in two types, 90 degree or quadrature hybrids, which include branchline couplers, Lange couplers, and overlay couplers and short-slot waveguide couplers. The second type of hybrid is the 180 degree hybrid, which includes the rat-race and the magic tee.

See parametric amplifiers.

I Love Me Wall
when you adorn the walls of your cube with meager certificates of your pitiful career, such as your "six sigma certification" or "congratulations on passing a timecard audit", this is the I Love Me Wall. Ever wonder why your coworkers roll their eyes when they visit you? Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!

Infinite Monkey's Technique
It has been stated that if you had infinite monkeys with typewriters, eventually they would write all of Shakespeare's works.  In microwave design work, if you are bored you can play with a design tool like Microwave Office and try optimizing different networks to fit a response that you are looking for.  That is exactly how we developed the 2-18 GHz parabolic equalizer you can see on this page. Optimization provides the infinite monkeys!  Let's be honest, it is way easier than trying to do some actual math...

In the noise (or in the mud)
Signals that are not detectable because of noise. This phrase is used in many other ways, like when you get a small raise in pay, it might be in the noise.

ISO audit
The day on the calendar that you should schedule a couple of rounds of golf.

Kentucky windage
A straightforward and effective way to recenter a design that is off in frequency. For example, you design a filter to work at 10 GHz center frequency. In test, it's centered at 10.5 GHz. Instead of analyzing the crap out of what happened, Kentucky windage means you redesign the filter for a center frequency of 9.5 GHz and expect it to work at 10 GHz on the second try. This term dates back to Sergeant York, a sharpshooter from Tennessee in W.W.I., who was an inspiration to gun nuts all over the world. Often employed in antenna design.

Kettle Corn Franchise
When your employer got rid of the pension plan, Kettle Corn became an important component of your retirement plan. Remember that time you laughed at the geezer serving up sugar-covered popcorn at the county fair?

Lab bunny
One of those cute girls from the clean room that you only see in a white gown. She's too good for you, Fred.

Lab Queen
Lab Queen refers to a unit that is special in the sense that it is very good, too good actually, even better than a golden unit. Technically it’s an outlier and shouldn’t be used as a baseline for comparison with other units. Thanks to Luis!

Lab rat
Older laboratory personnel, often with thick glasses and coffee breath, that know where everything is.

Lead engineer
The first guy out the door on a sunny Friday.

Limbaugh logic
How low can you go? This is a way of trying to fool your audience which is apparently very effective. Example: in order to refute that global warming exists, every time it is cold outside El Windbag makes a "point" that global warming couldn't possibly be happening, because it's so cold outside. Data analysis is a lot more complicated than that! This is like saying that because the oldest person in the world is now 115 years old, we'll all live to that age. To a true engineer, this misrepresentation of statistical phenomena would insult your intelligence if you thought about it, but most people don't think about what is presented to them. In any analog field you can always report the "hero result" as typical performance, yet practically no one questions it. Every time you go to a review and see single point data, ask for much more!

Living in cardboard
Your next house if that SiGe power amp you designed doesn't work.

Load pull
The process of varying the impedance seen by the output of an active device to other than 50 ohms in order to measure performance parameters, in the simplest case, gain. In the case of a power device, a load pull power bench is used to evaluate large signal parameters such as compression characteristics, saturated power, efficiency and linearity as the output load is varied across the Smith chart.

Long green versus short money
Everyone knows that it is unethical to ask a government contractor exactly how much money they have to spend on a new program. But you can ask for hints, like "so, we talking short money, or long green?" The code words here refer to under $10,000 or over $1,000,000. If they answer "in between", you can rest assured that the contract will go for six figures. A way to remember the difference is to note that the average Hewlett Packard employee works for short money, but Carly got away with long green when she walked the plank.

Low hanging fruit
Engineering tasks that can be done affordably, with measurable results. Opposite of "milking mice".

Centuries ago, the original Luddites were afraid that knitting machines would take away their crummy jobs making socks. Now the term is applied to anyone that is afraid of technology. For example, a microwave engineer might be called a Luddite if he never learned how to use electromagnetic simulation software.

The proper redneck pronunciation of "microwave", thanks to Kevin! Help us fite mackerwave stupidity, buy a mug.

A verb in the engineering sense, not a noun. To "Macgyver" something is to fix a problem with only the tools at hand. Example: increase the isolation of an RF switch by adding some metal sceptums into a $500 housing that you cut from piece of discarded sheet metal. Angus Macgyver was the central character in a 80's era TV mystery series, his shtick was to solve problems with superior knowledge, some duct tape and a Swiss army knife. That's Richard Dean Anderson playing Macgyver to the right, with his unfortunately "sensitive male" 70's haircut. Maybe John Edwards and Macgyver could compare notes on $400 haircuts.

Magic blue smoke
Magic blue smoke, or simply "magic smoke" is defined as the smoke contained inside a chip that is essential for the chip to function. Once that smoke is released (due to whatever screw-up) the chips no longer works. This is usually followed by someone exclaiming "oh no, you let out the magic smoke! Now it will never work. Let's go bowling". Thanks, Frank! Visit our Microwave Mortuary for a pile of pictures of parts that lost all of their magic blue smoke! Here's a page on power handling!

Magic tee
This is the waveguide version of the rat-race, a four-port, 180 degree hybrid.

Man bag
We've all been to conferences and accepted the little bag that they give you to hold your conference proceedings and the collection of junk that suppliers give you. If you are male, guess what? You are now sporting a fashion accessory known as a man bag. If you want to really have the best, go to manbag.com and pick out one that coordinates with your outfit. If you are man enough to be that in touch with your feminine side. Kind of goes with your "lunch purse", eh?

Mayor McCheese
Once an ad campaign for junk food, now the perfect nickname for your boss, especially if he is a big sloppy eater. Note the resemblance? BTW, Mayor McCheese is all over the internet, including a parody of "Me and Bobby McGee"... "nugget's just another word, for no meat left to use..."

Known alternatively as "Mr. Big Stuff", or sometimes "Lunchbox".

Microsoft Work Simulator
Also known as PowerPoint. Thanks to Joe!

Milking mice
This expression implies that "improvements" that are being considered will have benefits that are almost too small to be measured. Like when someone notices that a circuit board design has line impedance of 51 ohms, and they want to re-spin the artwork to get closer to 50 ohms. Get your priorities straight, go after low hanging fruit!

Not an actual MIL SPEC but you might want to mark your drawings with this. Make it like the freaking drawing, Jose!

Add this to your specs. If someone calls about it you know they read the complete document. It is a MIL SPEC that does not exist. It means Make It Like The Plans 4(for) 1(once) indicating that you want it like you specified instead of cutting corners hoping that you don’t notice. Thanks to Paul! See also MIL-TFD-JOSE, above.

Prototype hardware that is assembled and tested ahead of "real" hardware to clear out bugs in the assembly/test process. Thanks to Jared!

Missionary work
Roadtrip to a customer's office (or Mayor McCheese's office) after being "called to the carpet" due to a "showstopper" caused by lack of "due diligence".

MMBL ("mumble")
MMBL stands for make more, buy less.  This motto serves well during lean times.  Got some boards that need laser cutouts?  Do you usually send them out?  And you have a laser out in the lab?  It's time to do that in-house to help keep your staff employed until the bow-wave of work (hopefully) comes in.

A form of unwanted parasitic oscillation, at very low audio frequency.

Mouse bites

Not this type of mouse bite...

When you make multiple printed wiring boards on a panel, separated by drilled holes, and snap them apart, the half-holes kind of look like a mouse bit the boards.

Mouse hole
When an enclosure has an open-air path through a metal wall for carrying a signal, it is said to be a mouse hole. Even though only a cricket might fit through it.

Mule skinner
One who can make ornery designs work, i.e. a MMIC mule skinner would be the guy who teases that last 500 MHz out of a wideband amplifier's interstage matching network in an hour, after you've been beating your head against the wall for a week. Term is also applied to a lab rat that can quickly figure out what's wrong with that test station that's been giving you grief, for example, show you which calibration standard you busted.

Mushroom Factory
Thanks to David, who first heard this at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center back in the mid 1980s from a fellow engineer. A mushroom factory is a place or job position where company management puts engineers who disagrees with some stupid thing that management is doing. 

  • The company will place the engineer in a room and cut them off from as much information as possible. (they keep you in the dark)
  • They give you the job of cleaning up someone else mess (they throw $hit/manure on you)
  • When they are done with you they let you go (they can you)

Natural resource
Narrowly focused subject matter expert who can lead a program to technical success but has difficulty doing most mundane activities (getting lunch, personal hygiene and arriving at work on-time)... also see finite energy theorem.... opposite of a hack.

Negro League
When your company is so big that it has two or more facilities that do the same type of work, one site will quickly sell itself to Mayor McCheese as "the best", and try to force the other team out of business, employing Tonya Harding techniques. Often the result of a merger. You're in the other plant - that's the Negro League. Fear not, some of the best ballplayers have been in the same position!

Nerd pack
The pocket protector, now with its own page on Microwaves101! The introduction of the pocket-less polo shirt and its acceptance as everyday engineering attire is largely responsible for the demise of the nerd pack. Of course, computers did not help this situation. Thanks to Stephen M. for pointing this out! For more nerd pack info, check out the Engineering and Technology History wiki over at http://ethw.org/Pocket_Protectors

Not (even) fractionally good! Or some such. Usually an adjective applied to dead hardware, if you see the NFG label on a piece of test gear, choose another one!

A person that is new at something, and is therefore easy to defeat. See pwn. Like Sergeant Schultz, a noob knows nothing!


Ongoing activity
A project that you have to report on at your weekly meeting, which you haven't done a single thing on all week.

Open kimono
To "go open kimono" is to have nothing to hide. Often occurs at a Come to Jesus meeting. Less than ten Japanese words that have been adopted into the American English language, only because we had no words for stuff like "dress worn by a man", or "huge wave that kills everyone on island", or "sword for killing yourself", or "suicide pilot" or "very expensive hooker with funny looking backpack". Yes indeed, diversity is a wonderful thing!

Opposable thumbs
The only qualification that the boss's nephew brings into the lab. See theory of relativity.

The hot/cold plate for testing components over temperature by cycling liquid nitrogen to maintain the temperature set point.

Anyone from Avantek in its heyday would know this term, since it was the actual description on the bill of materials and test procedures for their in-house built hot/cold temp plates.

Thanks to Ed!

What does that hill look like today? Click here to find out!

"Our gang" marketing strategy
This is how engineering gets into deep yogurt. A marketing dude is at some plush industry day drinkathon, and hears a competitor bragging to a potential customer about some new technology, in the original example, a new firetruck. Your representative butts in, starting the next ten minute conversation with "That's nothing! Our gang has a firetruck the whole gang can ride on!" Later, you get to figure out how to build it, with zero budget. Refers to the Little Rascal's 1934 film short titled "Hi Neighbor!" Forget the asinine "FiSH!" video, this is one movie that should be shown to all engineers so they know the truth about how it's all supposed to work.


Attenuator; a three-dB attenuator is more often called a three-dB pad for example. The name comes from the use of attenuators to reduce reflections between components that are not well matched to the system impedance. As in "if you pad out those bumps in the VSWR, the frequency response will flatten out".

Pasty Board
Small circuit board added to a harness to fix non-RF electrical interface mistakes without having to rework any black box components. Usually consists of a handful of resistors and/or diodes. Named because they are sometimes secured using double-sided tape. See daughter board.

Pension plan
See "retirement package."

Percussive maintenance
Defined as the application of a good rap on what ever is not working as expected at the time. Not as effective as you'd like on an HP computer (nothing helps), but it might just fix that printer problem! Thanks (again) to Frank!

Perp walk
That "Kodak moment" when Mayor McCheese is escorted from the building. You'll see much more of Karl Rove on Fox News these days, at least fifty pounds worth.

A method of data extraction. Pidooma stands for "pulled it directly out of my ass". A truly great response when someone is sniping your PowerPoint slides and asks "where did you get this data?" To which you reply "it's a pidooma" and move on. Most snipers are too embarrassed to ask the definition of a term they don't know.

Piece of work
It's not a good thing when an assembler calls your design a piece of work! See right mess. People that are called a piece of work are not being complimented, even though the phrase was originated by Shakespeare.

Pig tail
A crude way of adding a connector port to a circuit board for troubleshooting. Take a nice test cable from the rack, cut it in half and strip it back. Solder the outer shield to the nearest ground on the board, and the center conductor to the signal you want to see. Hide the other half of the cable in your toolbox for next time!

Pill package
A small, two-leaded package used in 70's era military stripline assemblies.  Apparently still used in Russia, if you search "tunnel diode" on Ebay you will return a dozen images like the one below, shipped from Bulgaria!

Pink-slip blizzard
Massive layoffs, often associated with the final days of a Bush administration.

An exceptional thing, if you are in Massachusetts. The only thing that is better, is a "wicked pissa". Sometimes used as an adjective, like "this time those point-one-five micron gates etched wicked pissa!"

Pizza mask
A MMIC mask set that is shared by a wide variety of designs, coming from different designers or even different companies. Typically your design will have to be stretched to fit next to some other dude's to define scribe streets, or the RF pads won't make it to the edge of the chip. Pizza masks can save you a lot of money because the process cost is shared by all.

Material used to prevent tuning slugs, trim pots, etc. from moving once set, also used to insulate HV connections or to hold (relatively) large mass components to the PCB or to keep weather out of RF connectors. Can also be a verb meaning to apply the pookey. "Better pookey that HV capacitor connection or you might be shocked on it." Sometimes its just hot melt glue or corona dope or wax or whatever. Bubble gum? Thanks to Steve!

Pogo pin
A spring-loaded cylindrical contact, which can be used to form a pressure-contact coaxial connection when inserted through an insulating bead. Sometimes called a watch-band spring, or a spring-contact probe. See also fuzz button.

Often a poor substitute for common sense, but without it you won't get CMMI certification and then where will you be? Note: Microwaves101 employs a process of random thoughts, bad jokes and misplaced information (you should see our file cabinet out in the garage...) and we love processes so much that we're thinking of donating $50M to Carnegie Mellon to have the CMMI building named after us...


The Prospector
Many government organizations are seriously understaffed when it comes to technical people, so they often employ retired engineers as paid consultants at your design or program reviews. That cranky, grey-haired old dude that keeps picking away at weak points in your approach is The Prospector. Did you really think you could use epoxy to mount a 100 watt GaN power amplifier chip? Take that, Spaceboy!

The Prospector does not have business cards, so don't even ask. He never wears a suit and tie, otherwise you wouldn't recognize him.

This is the microwave laboratory. If you don't see the connection, find a job that you actually like and get out! Not to be confused with the sandbox.

Put on the red light
As in "you don't have to sell your body to the night". Meaning: sometimes it is better to suffer the indignity of performing a Six-Sigma project or other "management initiatives", just to get that box checked off at review time. Your real friends will understand. Sure they will.

To pwn someone, or to get pwned, is to beat someone so bad you own them. "Pwn" is the correct spelling, not "pone!" Example: on that next DARPA proposal, we're gonna pwn Northrop Grumman! Get used to the new slang of videogamers, they are about to become your employees.

Quarter-inch brow
Or one-centimeter-brow for those on the S.I. system. Refers to someone that is intellectually challenged, who can only muster the most primitive response to any stimulus. That meens reel stoopid, a cretin. Best modern example: Sean Hannity.


Separated at birth?

Remove and replace, or rest and relaxation. As in, Tanya, can you R&R that MMIC I roasted, while I get some R&R?

This is the common name for a four-port circular coupler with isolated inputs, and outputs 180 degrees out of phase. Click here to see an entire page on Rat Races to learn more!

Rat's nest

Not this type of rat's nest...

When you hand-wire a prototype, or white-wire a circuit card assembly, it can have so many wires it looks like a rat put it together.

Rectum spanalyzer
That crucial piece of kit out in the lab. Thanks to Rob!

Retirement package
The most common plan in the microwave industry is summarized here:

"Don't let the screen door hit you where the dog should have bit you".

Reverse engineering
Tearing apart competitor's hardware so you can copy the good ideas they developed while you were slacking. Watch out, in the People's Republic of China, this is a popular college major.

RF choke
A low pass structure, most often a series inductor or a series resistor.

Ride the short bus
Expression applied to special needs engineers, and SUV drivers.

Reduction in force. Often used as a verb, as in "Where's Joe? He got riffed!" See pink slip blizzard.

Right mess
Limey expression that means piece of work.

Road warrior
A sales guy who never talks to the rest of the team because he's always on the road earning frequent flyer miles and attending folk-dancing festivals.

Roasted device
A nonfunctional, blown-up device. Also, barbecued, cremated, wasted, zorched, hosed. Dirt nap time for your hardware. Sometimes called a paperweight. Send us a photo of your ugliest catastrophe for the microwave mortuary!

A rotary joint.

Any research job that has no end in sight is referred to as a sandbox, because it's pure play time. Not to be confused with the playground.

Scoop-proof connector
Scoop proof means that it is impossible to damage the guts of a connector by twisting it or moving it while it is being engaged or disengaged. This term is typically applied to circular "DC" connectors that are keyed so that the two halves only mate when they are correctly lined up. If a connector is not scoop proof, you can bend the pins (scoop them) if you are not careful.  LEMO connectors are generally scoop proof. Here's more info on this topic.

Scope photo
A printout of a bitmap file obtained from a digital scope. Holdover from the days before Polaroid was bankrupt and they had a lucrative market in every lab in the country. Remember before scopes had memory, and you could capture a single trace by holding the shutter open? It usually took a half box of film to get the shutter set right.

The art of tuning softboard circuits with a very sharp modeling knife, sometimes a steel rule and occasionally optical aid to see what you are doing (thanks again, HB of Filtronic!) Opposite of dagging.

Seagull Manager
A Seagull Manager is one that swoops in from nowhere, squawks a bunch, craps all over everything and then flies off before he/she gets assigned any real work. Thanks to Frank!

No, this isn't prime-time television bedroom talk. Here we refer to solid-copper-jacketed PTFE-filled coaxial cable.

Short bus
As in, "ride the short bus". Lowbrow humor (which we would never use) that refers to someone that is "intellectually challenged".

Short loop
A planned experiment where some feature of the design are left out and the final parts will be non-functional but serve a purpose.  Often, short-loops are done in semiconductor processing.  For example, a yield problem is occuring in backside processing.  Some short-loop wafers can be processed with a few layers of representative metal on the topside (no expensive gates), them flipped to perform backside experiments.

Short money
See long green.

When you have no idea of what is wrong during troubleshooting and you are running out of time, try a shotgun repair. Replace as many components as you can and flip the switch on. Pray for no magic blue smoke. A shotgun design is one where you try a whole bunch of tweaks to the artwork, because you don't have the time or expertise to fully analyze it an develop an accurate model. Thanks to Ben!

A fundamental problem that blows the whole project out of the water.

Oscillating. Especially when you didn't intend to build an oscillator, as in, "that amp's singing an operetta!"

Six sigma project
When a project is finished successfully without blowing the budget, sure enough someone with "Six Sigma Black Belt" will come take credit for all of the hard work done by know-nothing engineers. At this point your little project will gain the legendary status of having "saved the company over $10,000,000, at least" which somehow never gets verified by an independent accounting firm. Remind yourself that it's OK for a cute ex-administrative assistant to get a $20K bonus for the effort even though you get nothing, because she went to the Six Sigma Retreat at a five-star hotel in Santa Barbara and is now on a first name basis with Mayor McCheese, and she once educated you by telling you that "you know, sigma is, like, a Greek letter, it's so special it's not on the keyboard!" Unless you are a Scientologist (and you probably aren't if you are an engineer), it is likely that you will never "get it" when it comes to this modern corporate cult.

Smoking crack
Making optimistic scheduling, revenue, or performance predictions that are so divorced from reality that your coworkers think you're on the "Marakesh Express". If you don't know what the Marakesh Express is, ask that elderly hippy assembler that can't remember your name...

Situation, normal, all effed up.  Dates to WWII, possibly the first war that was won with helo from the F-word. See FUBAR.

To "socialize" something with a customer is to break bad news gently. As in when your boss says, "it's getting obvious the money is going to run out before we get to the second design spin to cover your mistakes, it's time to socialize a cost overrun. I'm late for the golf course, I will councel you later".

Any of many types of company sponsored evening dinners (or parties) where one can improve their station within the company by not staining your bosses pants or puking on his wife. Getting invited and successfully navigating a soiree is the second-fastest known way for career advancement. Here's some practice dialogue... "Mayor McCheese, that can't be your wife, it must be your daughter!"

Source pull
The process of varying the impedance seen by the input of an active device to other than 50 ohms in order to measure performance parameters. In the case of a low noise device, source pull is used in a noise parameter extraction setup to evaluate how signal-to-noise ratio (noise figure) varies with source impedance.

When you look at an RF tone that has been modulated (rectangular pulse for example) on a spectrum analyzer, the signal is said to splatter across some amount of bandwidth.

Spinning your wheels
Iterative development, not getting the project done.

Spiral development
See above.

In the frequency domain, a measurable but undesirable component. The opposite of a suck-out.

Spurious (signals, response)
The word "spurious" literally translates from Latin as "of illegitimate birth", or bastard.  So spurius signals are illegitimate products of nonlinear elements in the system, like mixers.

A contraction of self-quenching, refers to a self-blocking oscillator.

A squib is technically a small explosive device. In missiles, a thermal battery is activated by "squibbing it". Once squibbed, you can't unsquib, and the experiment you started will likely end in a fire and toxic waste incident. In a bar room, you might make use of the word thusly: "squib me dos Zimas, G-bones", but you are to avoid this usage if you are over the age of fifty, according to Huff Post.

To "starve" a mixer is to not feed it enough LO power. By the way, obese people should never say "I'm starving" when the mean "I'm hungry", it is disrespectful to anyone who actually has starved.

Opposite of living in cardboard. Indicates success, i.e. "that new filter design is stylin'!" A west-coast equivalent of pissa.

Sucks con queso
When something does worse than suck. As in, "my job doesn't just suck, it sucks con queso". Any descriptor is amplified to a superlative, when you add a slice of delicious cheese. Remember you heard this idiom here first, when it goes viral.

Describes a situation where an expected flat frequency response has a narrow frequency band where the gain drops off by several dB or more, with "normal" gain on both sides of the anomaly. If you want to be a microwave good-old boy, when you see this, just say "it must be moding", and go get another donut.

Sunshine Club
Let's rewind the clock to WWII, when GIs used to eat instant coffee dry with a spoon, take a shower at least every two weeks, while earning next to no pay, and consider how far we've evolved. Some of us can't make up our minds as to which which five dollar beverage to buy at Starbucks. Welcome to the Sunshine Club! Let's put this politely... this group of people believes that if their pants fell down, those of us standing behind them would be bathed in sunshine. Telltale signs: an office right off the pages of "Home Beautiful" that looks like it is never used for real work, with carefully-placed accessories and accent pieces. No file cabinet, never been to the lab. Can easily talk about themselves for six hours each workday, their one-way conversation peppered with complaints about conditions at the office, proud descriptions of stuff they own and their mediocre, spoiled-rotten kids. Longtime subscriber to Forbes magazine where they read articles on what car to buy in order to get promoted. Weekend "makeovers" at The Spa, and extended trips to The Mall during lunch. Big-time fan and hopeful crony of Mayor McCheese. Owns "His and Hers" H3s; on rare occasion of getting to work on time, parks diagonal across two spaces, otherwise hangs wheelchair placard from rearview mirror and parks in handicapped space. The list of things you can buy for yourself is endless, and everyone always wants to know what's on your mind, so why waste any time on something so mundane as work? Always responds to work requests with "I have a lot on my plate right now".

Surface wave
Similar to "trap", a word used in system circles to describe many unknown phased array antenna phenomena as in "that suck out in the antenna pattern must be due to an unintended surface wave".

This came from Jon...thanks!

SWAG is for scientific wild-assed guess. When I tune a strange (usually new to the world) amplifier, I take a SWAG and start Easter Egging around the Chicken Dots (tuning pads) I leave in all my designs. Sometimes I let the analysis programs guide my SWAG, but that is only if my schedule allowed me the luxury of modeling first.

Which leads to this key sentence:

"Time to shoot the engineers and start production." This point in the program only arrives if the SWAG led to something productive, like an amplifier that meets spec and did not let the smoke (magic or otherwise) out of the active devices (passive devices usually survive some smoke letting).

SWaP, or SWaP-C
Size, weight and power, or size, weight and power and cost. An overused buzzword, particularly in space and airborne applications.

Size, weight and PowerPoint. As in "that fat guy's presentation just raised the bar on SWaPP for this conference. You gonna eat that muffin?"

JTRS radio provided a new paradigm in SWaPP:


In microwaves, we don't mean a broom when we say sweeper. This refers to an older, non-synthesized sweep oscillator that you might use in measurements where frequency accuracy is not important, such as noise figure setups.

Take no prisoners
When Aeroflex buys your small company and pink-slips the whole team, they are "taking no prisoners". Refers to days of yore when captured enemy combatants were killed off rather than fed.

Tank circuit
A simple inductor/capacitor circuit that stores energy at its resonant frequency, like a tuning fork does with audio. It is called a "tank" circuit because early experimenters often used water pipe systems as an analogy to what they observed.

Like "teats on a bull"
a colorful way of saying something (or someone) is useless!

Theory of relativity
Here we don't care about Einstein's definition. We are talking about the theory that whenever promotions happen at work, some of the boss's relatives will soon get bigger paychecks, while you sit in the same crappy cubicle all your life. Say, doesn't the boss still have an unmarried daughter?

Throw under the bus
To throw blame at a co-worker, particularly at a meeting. A bad career move in the long run, paybacks are a bitch.

Thru (as in "thru-line measurement")
Fully nine out of ten microwave engineers spell "through" this way, out of laziness. A thru measurement means that you have removed your device under test from the test gear and measured the response of the setup with nothing in it. This is done to check the test equipment calibration.

When a surface-mount part is mounted standing up on one end, either by accident in solder reflow, or on purpose because you didn't make proper artwork, it is said to be a tombstone.

Toe tag
When you have hardware that fails your customer's spec, it often wears a toe tag until you pull it from the bonepile and fix it.

TWB - token white boy
An engineer or intern/co-op/grad student that is a native English speaker and US citizen who talks to contract inspectors for government projects. Meanwhile, real work is mainly accomplished by foreign nationals, working domestically or overseas. A good gig if you can get it!

Tonya Harding
To pull a "Tonya Harding" means to sabotage a competing design in your lab to preserve your job, it's as easy as turning the drain voltage knob up a few volts, then resetting it. This activity often occurs at large companies which are made up as a result of merging smaller companies without properly employing a pink-slip blizzard.

A rectangular metal container containing screwdrivers, wrenches, coaxial adapters, copper tape, etc. Not to be confused with the Bill Gatsian definition that would have you believe that a "toolbox" is an icon that your cheeze-doodle-stained, carpal tunnel infested hand clicks on to reveal some crappy little pieces of software that will make your miserable cubicle life slightly better, or the Six Sigma definition, where the "toolbox" is a bunch of bumper sticker slogans like "less fasteners, less problems".

Trade rag
Another name for a trade journal.

A catchall word for the root cause of any unexpected semiconductor behavior. As in, "the I-V curves are collapsing due to deeply-embedded traps which are affecting electron mobility". Another way to say "I don't know, but I like to hear myself talk". Be careful how often you use the word "traps", or people might consider you an academic.

Treasure hunt
When you finally get fed up with never finding any adapters that you need around the lab, your treasure hunt starts when you get the bolt cutters and start removing locks from toolboxes. See Bogart.

A phase shifter that uses a line stretcher to adjust transmission phase.

This is what a technician does to make a microwave circuit pass its specification. It usually means adding capacitive blobs of metal along sensitive transmission lines while keeping an eye on a network analyzer or other TE until a desired response is attained. This can take years of practice, and the people that are best at it in a typical company are paid the least.

Tuning-fork splitter
Sometimes used to refer to a Wilkinson power splitter, because it looks like a tuning fork, especially when drawn on a paper napkin, after a liquid lunch.

Turd in the punchbowl
An issue that is impacting a program's cost or schedule. As in "Just when Vendor X got back on track and delivered their hardware, we found out that Vendor Y has a design problem that requires a significant analysis and possible rework. It seems like there is always a turd in the punchbowl."

Synonym for diddle stick. Thanks to Steve!

What an engineer does on a redesign to improve performance. Note the difference between "tweaking" and "tuning" or you will forever be a lightweight.

Twin peaks
Some naturally-occurring phenomena tend to have two maxima when plotted in Cartesian coordinates, like the delta output of a monopulse network. What did you think we were talking about, Mr. Lonely Guy?

Uff da!
What the Norwegian technician says when you tell him that most of the semi-rigid cables he assembled for you have huge suck-outs. Roughly translates to "oy vey!", or "yarbles!"

A method of reducing wirebond inductance slightly, by using two wires.  See our page on RF wirebonds.



A portmanteau of "via" and "capacitor".  This is what happens when your via process screws up and holes are not completely etched.  Your DC connection to the wafer backside is open, but it is way too late to rework it and you will pay for the full process.  Not a good thing! Thanks to Pete.

Void the warrantee
This expression is applied after catastrophic (intentional or unintentional) damage is incurred on a piece of company or government equipment. Like drilling holes in break room microwave oven to try out a flash boiler experiment...

Vow of poverty
What you take to continue to work on that cool research project that you overspent last year.


Walk for Hunger
No, we're not talking about Project Bread's fund drive to help the poor... here we're talking about all the fat dudes at work locking their computer screens at 11:15 AM to stand in line at the entrance of the cafeteria so they will get the best selection from the pasta bar and build-your-own-half-pound-burger... they're taking a personal Walk for Hunger every day! When someone asks you "you gonna finish that?", tell them "nope" and hand it over, while thinking, "I hope you enjoy your next heart stent!"

Usually referred to as "The Wallet", the source of money. The top customer at a program review. Someone you want to keep happy. Your kids may secretly call you this.

An employee that was born without a brain. Usually a relative of Mayor McCheese.

Wench bench
We don't need to apologize for inventing such extreme insensitivity and political incorrectness, the "wench bench" was a term that originated at Johns Hopkins University during WWII development of the VT fuse. The wench bench was the talented and dedicated group of female assemblers that worked on prototypes until all hours of the night, whenever their services were required. You go, girl!

When you modify a printed circuit using external wires, even if the PTFE jackets are not the color white, this is called "white-wiring".

Perhaps one rank below Wizard, is Wildman. The Wildman is kept on the production line, working the bone pile, his job is to make worthless broken stuff into salable hardware. Often his skills come at the expense of reduced personal hygiene, and the Wildman has no social skills, but without him your business would soon tank. Be nice to him!

The is no higher ranking in the lab than "Microwave Wizard", this is what we should all strive to be, especially if we want people to remember us after we're gone. There have been various depictions of wizardry in Hollywood efforts over the years, perhaps the best Wizard ever was played by Japanese actor Mako in 1982's Conan The Barbarian (please don't send us references to Harry Potter, there's just no comparison). Without the Wizard's seemingly bumbling incantations, Conan would never have been brought back to life. In the microwave business, you'll see the same scene time and time again. Makoto Iwamatsu died July 21, 2006.


In reference to the Anthony Burgess's great book A Clockwork Orange, Yarbles! is an abbreviated way of expressing "Great Bolshy Yarblockos!" Yarblockos is derived from the Russian word for apples, which of course has a second meaning. Here's the nadsat slang dictionary for all Microwaves101 droogs!

Author : Unknown Editor