BLOCK AND TACKLE: “A piece of equipment for lifting heavy objects, which works by a system of ropes and pulleys (small wheels around which the ropes are stretched).” – Oxford Advanced American Dictionary
I’m losing my touch. I used to encounter weasel words weekly, and now it seems I’m behind the curve. Last week, a client on a conference call averred that we had to block and tackle a project. When I brought this up to colleagues, they were shocked – shocked! – that I, proprietor of Lexicide.com, had not encountered this term until now.
As if my status was not already in jeopardy, my co-workers also thought I was being overly fussy about the weirdness of this term. They always assumed blocking and tackling referred to defensive American football plays. To me, block and tackle as a phrase refers to a pulley system – a machine one uses to lift the engine out of a car. Both metaphors are equally apt and also equally imprecise. If you go with the football analogy, what’s the blocking for? Why not just tackle a problem? If you’re mechanically inclined, block and tackle seems overly wordy. Brainstorm, fix or attack a problem, and you’ll sound just as masculine and action-y. But no one in American business ever got a raise for conciseness.
In the end, my colleagues defended block and tackle as both entirely appropriate and birthed not in the garage, but on the gridiron. Just like tight end, which has become my new nickname in the office.
– Otto E. Mezzo
UPDATE (September 3, 2014): Several readers have blitzed me for an incomplete pass. Block and tackle, they claim, is not an expression for attacking a problem. More precisely, to block and tackle means to get down to basics of a problem and solve it at that level – in other words, to not overthink the problem. They assume this because blocking and tackling are the foundations of defense in American football.
That is not the sense I got on my call. My client’s manager only said “I think we just need to block and tackle this,” or something equally prosaic. Was she imploring us to not overthink the solution? Considering the project was a one-page microsite on which she “tweaked” the font size four times, I think not.