penciled out + fired

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Sep 26 11:06:38 UTC 2011

This use of "penciled out" is quite common in investment circles. I've heard
it hundreds of times and never in the passive. It's use in this case is akin
to "the numbers [don't] add up."

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Victor Steinbok
Sent: Monday, September 26, 2011 5:04 AM
Subject: penciled out + fired

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.

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