Microspeak: The plate

To have a lot on one's plate means to have a lot of tasks and responsibilities.

We shouldn't give this task to Bob. He already has a lot on his plate. (Or: He already has a full plate.)

At Microsoft, this common English language idiom is treated as a normal part of the language. The metaphorical plate has become a synonym for assigned tasks and responsibilities and can be used as a basis for new idioms.

That feature moved off their plate onto ours.

Feature X got postponed to the next release, so there's room on our plate for Feature Y.

Update: Apparently there are some people who believe that Microspeak should restrict itself to jargon used at Microsoft and nowhere else. I employ a broader definition which includes the use of existing jargon which is used in an unusual way or used much more heavily than in the general population. Today's entry is one of the latter: I already pointed out that to have a lot on one's plate is a standard English idiom. What makes it Microspeak is how the word plate has taken on a life of its own at Microsoft, to the point where the original idiom is almost lost.

I apologize to those for whom this explanation was not necessary.

Comments (16)
  1. John says:

    That’s not really specific to Microsoft, though; it’s just a natural extension of the use of the idiom.

  2. Dave S says:

    I’ve found this to be common usage across fields…. programming, government consulting, politics….

  3. Austin Spafford says:

    Indeed, the concept of moving tasks off of someone’s plate is common where I work. However, I don’t think I’ve heard people refer to room on the plate itself.

  4. Gene says:

    I think everyone everywhere in the world has said this.  Yes, even the one’s that don’t speak English.  Don’t ask me how, but it’s that common.  Somewhere it’s a baby’s first words out of the womb right now.

    Next month’s Microspeak: the word ‘the’

    I think I’ve made my point.  Now I’m just beating a dead horse.

    …THAT’S IT!  Beating a dead horse!  That can be Microspeak next time.  No one ever uses that.

  5. ulric says:

    this one is a standard English idiom


  6. Jolyon Smith says:

    A fairly good sign that someone spends too much time in one sphere/group of people is when the lack of exposure to outside/additional references results in a belief that something that occurs in that sphere/within that group is actually specific to that sphere or group.

    Here "The Plate" referenced directly in such a way is more likely to derive from baseball (I think?).  As in…

    "If we are going to get this done in time someone needs to step up to The Plate"

    Not that I am immune to making such suppositions about exclusive ownership of idioms myself of course.

    Being an ex-pat POM in NZ it’s a fairly common mistake – even after 3+ years – to assume that certain idioms are unique to UK English where in fact they are known in NZ, just not used perhaps quite so often among the group of Kiwis that I have come to know.

    "Got a PS3 last week – it’s the dogs bollocks – as we say back in the UK"

    "Yeah mate, we say it here too"

    (but the equivalent "puppies privates" doesn’t seem to have made it here, well not until I arrived anyway)

    Often more surprising though are those things that you might expect to be common, but which are in fact not.

    Talk about a "lorry" here in NZ and you’ll get nothing but blanks looks and confusion.

    It’s TRUCK, dummy.

  7. Simon Cooke says:

    You can blame the spread of the phrase "The Dogs Bollocks" to New Zealand on Viz magazine. (And Your Sinclair magazine, IIRC).

  8. Chris says:

    Gene> Well you’re completly wrong.

    I’m not a native ebglish speaker but I’ve been working for quite some time now in the UK, and I had never heard anyone saying that before.

    Everyone who says stuff like that are just taking for granted something that is not.

    Thanks Raymond

  9. dave says:

    Chris> I’m a native English speaker and have been working in the UK for a long time. I have heard people, include myself, use this idiom before.

  10. ulric says:

    @Jolyon Smith

    ‘having a full plate’ and ‘stepping up to the plate’ have two different roots.  dinner plates vs baseball

  11. Apparently there are some people who believe that Microspeak should restrict itself to jargon used at Microsoft and nowhere else.

    Indeed – we could even characterize "some people" more precisely as "people who noticed that ‘Microspeak’ and ‘Microsoft’ share a root word."

    Even if they haven’t read 1984.

  12. Ens says:


    Maybe if you read more than the first sentence of the update, you’ll understand how Microsoft is still related to Microspeak without it being unique to Microsoft.  In the same way that a word in American English can also be in UK English, but nevertheless used more or differently.

    The 1984 reference blows me away.  Newspeak was about two things:

    1.  Absolute precision in communication.
    2.  Removing the ability to communicate certain ideas unfriendly to the Party.

    Which is basically the opposite of what happens here.

    And if you’re just non-sequitor referencing the "we have always been at war with Eastasia" theme, well, I’d say that attacking the word Microspeak based on selectively ignoring the text which explains it is a prime example of doublethink.

  13. Joe Chung says:

    The clarification was fine.  The insincere apology at the end though…

  14. The 1984 reference was indeed to Newspeak, but only the sense of a compound noun ${foo}speak.

    If the ${foo}speak meme predates 1984, I withdraw the reference.

  15. CmraLvr2 says:

    This microspeak this time was so-so.  The update and comments are amusing.  Perhaps the plate should be tabled.

  16. Perhaps the plate should be tabled.

    Winner.  Time to stick a fork in this thread.

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content