penciled out + fired

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Mon Sep 26 14:49:55 UTC 2011

No, to "pencil out" is to "result in a positive financial analysis." So to
"never pencil out" means that no one has ever come up with a positive
financial analysis.

I suppose it could be used to mean "to do the financial analysis," but I've
never heard it used that way. The phrase as I've heard it is always results
focused, not action focused. It's nearly synonymous with "add up," as in "we
ran the figures and they didn't add up" / "we ran the figures and they
didn't pencil out."

The "pencil" implies a rough, back-of-the-envelope calculation, as opposed
to a rigorous and detailed analysis. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing
when looking at investments. There are so many variables and assumptions
that impact future performance and additional rigor may not result in a more
accurate result.)

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Joel S. Berson
Sent: Monday, September 26, 2011 10:26 AM
Subject: Re: penciled out + fired

At 9/26/2011 07:06 AM, Dave Wilton wrote:
>This use of "penciled out" is quite common in investment circles. I've
>it hundreds of times and never in the passive. It's use in this case is
>to "the numbers [don't] add up."

So "penciled out" is a negative, implying rejection?  Or does
"penciled out" mean "sketched, outlined, but not finalized" (akin to
"I've penciled it in to my appointment book"), in contrast to
something "inked in"?


>-----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.
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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