Microspeak: Net net

In finance, the net is the total after you have cancelled positive values against negative values. For example, if you took in $30 and paid out $20, then your net is $10.

In Microspeak, this term has moved into project planning and has undergone redoubling, so it’s not just net; it’s net net. The doubling of the word was probably added to create a sense of impatience. Here’s an imaginary conversation that illustrates the term:

Speaker 1: We’re five days over on component X, but component Y is ahead of schedule, and we can have some of them h…

Speaker 2: (interrupting) What’s the net net?

Speaker 1: Um, we’re two days behind.

The net net is not a real estate transaction but rather is a short summary of a complicated situation, what often goes by the term bottom line.

Here is an actual citation:

(At the top of a long email message)

Net net, we’re delaying the release we had planned for tomorrow to try and get some critical fixes in.

Another use of the term net net is to highlight a conclusion from a lot of data.

(at the bottom of a large information-dense PowerPoint slide)

Net Net: Eliminate XYZ from our target set.

Both senses of net net highlight the principle of I know you’re impatient, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Comments (24)
  1. Mark (The other Mark) says:

    I haven’t seen this particular phrase used, but I am seeing one that means the same thing creep into business use- tl;dr.

    Apparently, it stands for "too long; didn’t read" and is one of them there innernet things the kids these days do. It’s incredibly surprising to find it on a business e-mail. I might see a long email accompanied with an updated infrastructure diagram, and a single line at the bottom "tl;dr – Added a backup DHCP Server to site 7"

  2. Tom says:

    There was an interesting article I saw a while ago that suggested that people are far too busy these days to put up with the standard presentation of present the background, show the dilemma, propose options, choose solution.  The author instead proposed that presentations should give the problem first, how it affects the project, what’s the corrective action, then provide the background.  

    Ahh…there’s the link:


  3. Paul Williams says:

    "Net net" is gross, gross.

    (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

  4. CatCube says:

    This sound like it’s similar to the Armyspeak of BLUF (pronounced "bluff") for "Bottom Line Up Front"  It’s used at the beginning of the document in front of a one-sentence to one-paragraph long summary so busy senior leaders don’t always (ever?) have to read the whole thing.

  5. Aaron says:

    I’ve seen something similar in source-code comments.   Coders will write // BUG BUG, or // HACK HACK, to make it easy to search for.   That way, you can write a comment that casually mentions the word "bug", but someone who wants to search for known, precise, descriptive cases of bugs will search for "BUG BUG".  

    One advantage of "Net net" is that an impatient recipient can search for just that phrase and get the bottom line quickly.

  6. Matthew says:

    @Aaron – While the doubling of comment markers serves a legitimate purpose (I myself do it often, especially for marking temporary testing code), it isn’t quite parallel to something like "net net".

    Code comments are placed throughout the text, while bottom-line points ("net net") will almost always be placed either before or after the descriptive text – and generally separated from other text by whitespace. Such presentation makes searching for a specific keyword unnecessary.

    Of course, if your "net net" was within the body of a work, that would be a legitimate claim to its use – however, such placement is somehwat contrary to the attention one is trying to draw to the summary statement in the first place.

  7. dave says:

    re "net net".  The term is not unfamiliar to me, though I simply translated it as "net" without really thinking about it. But I’d guess it does not seem to be merely Microsoft-speak.

    http://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/net-net.asp says, if I understand it, that it means "the net value right now".

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=net-net agrees with your definition

  8. keith says:

    My 11th grade English teacher would call this a "precis", but in the real world, it’s the more bulky "executive summary"; at least net net describes this artifact in two alliterative syllables.  

  9. Kir says:

    In more casual corners of the internet, this is usually written "TLDR" for "too long, didn’t read".

    Although originally it was somewhat rude, targeted at those who have nothing better to do than write multi-page diatribes on public threads, at this point posts will often open with:

    TLDR: <one sentence summary>

    <rest of the argument>

  10. David Walker says:

    … "we’re delaying the release we had planned for tomorrow to try and get some critical fixes in".

    Ugh.  The phrase "try and" is annoying; many people use it, but supposedly it means "we’re going to try to do X, *and* we’re going to succeed".  The power of positive thinking, I suppose.  "Try to" is better.  

    If you know you’re going to succeed, just say "We’re going to do X" and leave the "try" out of it!  Of course, when people say "try and" they generally mean "try to".

  11. Daniel Plaisted says:

    So I hear that .NET 4 is coming out sometime.  I wonder what the .NET net net is.

  12. Eric TF Bat says:

    @Daniel: I hear the Australian company dotNet Solutions is going to be replacing their .com.au domain with a .net one, but they haven’t decided whether to upgrade to .NET 4 at the same time, mainly because they’re worried about getting tangled up in the complexity of it all, but I don’t see what the dotNet .NET .net net net net is.

  13. Logan says:

    (You should have put at the bottom)

    Net Net: net net = tl;dr

  14. MadQ says:

    @David Walker: That’s similar to "Where are you at?". The "at" is redundant, nonessential, verbose, and superfluous. Grossly speaking, that’s the bottom line all summed up. Er. Quo errat demonstrator.

  15. dave says:

    re: "try and"

    >but supposedly it means "we’re going to try

    >to do X, *and* we’re going to succeed".

    Seems far-fetched to me.  I regard "try and" as a perfectly ordinary expression.  One should try to stick to "try to" in well-mannered writing, but otherwise, it’s ok.

    The OED concurs.

     — USAGE The constructions try to and try and (as in we should try to (or try and) help them) mean the same thing, but try and is more informal: use try to in formal writing or speech.


  16. Hardware Junkie says:

    To David Walker, re: If you know you’re going to succeed, just say "We’re going to do X" and leave the "try" out of it!  Of course, when people say "try and" they generally mean "try to".

    Remember that Yoda put it this way "There is no try, only do." People just hate having Yoda quotes thrown at them ;-)

  17. Hardware Junkie says:

    re: Daniel: ".NET 4 is coming out sometime.  I wonder what the .NET net net is."

    Whtever the net of .Net 4 is, I’m sure it’ll be SLOOOOW. Maybe faster than it used to be, but still SLOOOOW.

  18. David Candy says:

    Apparantly it’s in use at The Australian too.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/story/0,28124,26143926-5001641,00.html (21st paragraph)

  19. Ben says:

    I would have thought that net net would not have originated in "here’s the rushed version", but from the "net of all the net".

    As in, you get the net balance for each account (net), and then you get the net of each account (net net).

    … just like the way that you have totals, and then you have a grand total.

    To me, net net says, "here’s the summary of all the summaries". I’m sure I hear this from time to time, though I’m not a Microsoft employee.

  20. dave says:

    Remember that Yoda put it this way "There is no try, only do."

    Thus showing that Yoda is stuck in a C programming rut.

  21. hotblack says:

    I had a teacher in high school who would distribute handouts with the contents, then a summary section, then an even more concise summary she called the "sum sum".

  22. Mark says:

    This is something that AmE obscures: is it nett net, or nett nett?

  23. silky says:

    Have to be honest, this is one I really like. Not only does it sound hilarious, it’s faster to say than "bottom line", and speaks to my impatience. I’m going to try and adopt it.

  24. Sorpigal says:

    This usage is interesting and probably reflective of a general need for this kind of summary. With so much detailed information flowing past us constantly it is no wonder we have begun to adopt a convenient mechanism for noting where the bottom-line statement is; it saves time for the busy reader.

    As others have noted the ‘common’ form of this on the Internet is tl;dr. I have gradually begun seeing this creep into verbal communication, where it is (so far) said as "tee el, dee are".

    tl;dr net net is tl;dr and soon this will be normal.

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