penciled out + fired

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 26 09:03:47 UTC 2011

I came across this and started scratching my head.
> "It was revolutionary," said Walter Bailey, a former Macquarie Capital
> investment banker who specialized in green technology and visited
> Solyndra in 2008. "You had some of the smartest money in the world
> getting behind it. It was a real company with a huge factory and an
> extremely unique product.
> "The only problem," said Bailey, now a senior partner at boutique
> investment bank Focus Capital in New York, "was that it never penciled
> out."

It's fairly obvious what "never penciled out" means here, although I
would have expected a passive construction here ("was penciled out" or
"had been penciled out"). But, as it stood, the precise meaning was
elusive. None of the usual dictionary sources (certainly not the
OED--nothing even remotely related there) were helpful.

Farlex Financial Dictionary is the only one (unsurprisingly) that came

> A slang expression for a rough analysis of the viability of an
> investment.

Still, it seems that it should have worked out to a passive... The
meaning seems to be "the numbers never worked out", which is a bit
different from "the rough viability analysis was never done"--which is
what one would get from the Farlex definition, passivized.

I am also wondering if the writer got confused himself when putting the
piece together. The quote from Baily is broken in an odd way--I would
have expected the "was" to be included in the first piece, not delayed
for the second. It's as if the author /expected/ "was" to be in the
second piece--somewhere.

An unrelated observation is that I've increasingly noticed that e
distinction between "laid off" and "fired" has been near wiped out. I've
always seen "fired" as a more pro-active phrasing, suggesting that
either the employee did something to deserve the ax or that the employer
had some motive to ax the specific employee. In contrast, involuntary
action--such as a result of bankruptcy--would normally be written up as
"laid off". But, lately, "fired" is the one term that appears almost

> Whether corporate managers issued misleading financial information or
> covered up growing problems remains to be determined as federal
> authorities probe the company, which fired its roughly 1,100 employees
> on the last day of August and filed for Chapter 11 protection Sept. 6.

Or is this recency illusion at work again?


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