Microspeak: Cadence

Originally, the term cadence meant the rate at which a regular event recurs, possibly with variations, but with an overall cycle that repeats. For example, the cadence for team meetings might be "Every Monday, with a longer meeting on the last meeting of each month."

Project X is on a six-month release cadence, whereas Project Y takes two to three years between releases.

Q: What was the cadence of email requests you sent out to drive contributions?

A: We started with an announcement in September, with two follow-up messages in the next month.

In what I suspect is a case of I want to use this cool word other people are using, even though I don't know exactly what it means, the term has been applied more broadly to mean schedule or timeline, even for nonrecurring events. Sample usage: "What is our cadence for making this available outside the United States?"

Comments (22)
  1. keith says:

    You've posted before about recreational cycling, so I'm surprised you didn't tie that in, because there is a specific meaning in cycling (related to the military meaning, the count of footfalls in a unit of time in a march, incidentally giving us the 1990 Charlie Sheen movie, "Cadence"; it seems to be Charlie Sheen week here!): the cadence is the number of pedal revolutions per minute.  A typical rider should target a minimum cadence of 70; less than 70, you are in too high a gear, you are going to tire out and hurt your knees.  Lance Armstrong will hold a cadence of 100-120 for hours.  

  2. C. Allen-Poole says:

    Actually, cadence is a term borrowed from music. There it refers to the ending of a musical "thought" (sometimes called "foot", but that presents far greater issues in the field). Given the phrase, "What was the cadence of email requests you sent out to drive contributions?", I would look at you like your third head just sprouted a tumor. Either that, or I would say, "I was expecting it to be a PAC, but it turned out to be deceptive."

  3. ivan.danilov says:

    Also, a cadence is a place in a piece of music that feels like a stopping or resting point.

    So in this sense 'timeline' meaning seems ok to me.

  4. TomC says:

    I worked in an office where they said "out of pocket" instead of "out of the office".  They also used "buggin' out" to mean going home.  Example:  I'm buggin' out at 3 and will be out of pocket tomorrow.

  5. Alex Grigoriev says:

    When I read a microspeak article, part of my brain dies.

  6. nickd says:

    I've recently thought of "cadence" as the rhythm we adopt when we get really immersed in some sort of activity – kind of like getting into a groove.

    Then again, I'm probably biased, as I run http://cadence.cc

  7. Joshua Ganes says:

    I agree with Alex Grigoriev. I hate trying to decipher a secret "inside" language. Why can't everyone just try to communicate clearly? Are these just a select few individuals, or do the majority of Microsoft employees use "Microspeak"?

  8. Brian Marshall says:

    Some of us actually work against MicroSpeak. For example, I will never accept an "ask" from a team member. I'll get them them to tell me whether it's a request, a demand, a need, or something else that actually has contextual meaning. But that's not something I'd do outside with folks outside my team, since that's a sure way to not get what you want from them.

    I'm not sure why there is a predisposition to MicroSpeak, but I sorely wish I knew how to stop it. Unfortunately, I'd say I'm in the minority. It may be a large minority, but a minority nonetheless.

  9. Joe Dietz says:

    As a visitor to Msft's campus with a semi-regular cadence of ~9 months, it does seem that most Msfties speak Microspeak with varying degrees of fluency.  I think it just slips in.  I also wonder from time to time if marketing encourages this implicitly or explicitly.  Hearing the verb/nown 'bing' being used in obvious replacement of 'google' in quasi-casual conversation just had a dull ring to it.

  10. James Schend says:

    I have to actively combat it at our company, because we work with Microsoft a lot. ("ask" makes me wince.)

    We actually do use "cadence" though, in Raymond's first meaning. Fortunately, I haven't seen either of the last two examples yet, although I'm sure I'll see them sooner or later.

    I used to think Microspeak was a variation on people using long words (usually incorrectly) to appear smarter than they actually are. Now I'm not so sure… mostly because a lot of Microspeak words are very short.

    The weird thing is that Microsoft doesn't seem to use as much technical lingo as much engineering companies do, but instead they create lingo for the normal everyday business stuff.

  11. pingpong says:

    What's the expected cadence of msftspeak articles going forward? I so want to skip them.

  12. Joe says:

    Cadence in music means the beat and only the beat. Perhaps some here are thinking of Coda, which does means the concluding passage.

  13. Steve Smith says:

    Sort of off-topic but …  I know you like to make these things anonymous, "Project Y" rather than mentioning an actual project, but ProjectX actually exists.  It is a project used in the digital TV world written in, I believe, Java.  Perhaps Project Z might be an alternative.

    [That's not the Project X that I lifted the original sentence from. I suspect that there are a lot of projects on a six-month release cycle. It's cute that you think I was talking about yours. -Raymond]
  14. Michael Geary says:

    Joe, you're right that cadence is used to refer to the beat, but not *only* the beat. The word originally meant (and still means) a distinctive pattern at the end of a phrase. Interestingly enough, the word comes from cadenza, a typically non-rhythmic passage at the end of a musical piece.

  15. Drak says:

    @Steve Smith: Project X is also a video game released on (among others) the Amiga a long time ago. Somehow I didn't think Raymond meant that one either :P

  16. Ken Hagan says:

    Nit-pick: I think that most people would regard the subject matter of the entire article to be "a case of I want to use this cool word other people are using, even though I don't know exactly what it means".

  17. > I want to use this cool word other people are using, even though I don't know exactly what it means

    "When *I* use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less." — Through the Looking Glass

  18. GWO says:

    @Joe Cadence in music means the beat and only the beat. Perhaps some here are thinking of Coda, which does means the concluding passage.

    Cadence in music can also mean the resolution of a harmonic tension (this is the way I've heard it used most frequently).  If I play a diminished fifth (F-B, say, with an implicit or explicit G7/G9/Dm6 chord), and thene resolve to a perfect third (C-E, in this case) that's an authentic cadence (over I-IV-V or I-IV-ii in C) – with the dominant chord resolving to the tonic, and the harmonic tension resolving neatly.

  19. Danny Moules says:

    "a case of I want to use this cool word other people are using, even though I don't know exactly what it means"

    It's curious that in all cultures language becomes hijacked for purposes other than communicating. It's unfortunate that the culture surrounding English seems to stress being 'flexible' in our language. Flexibility in language is a guaranteed way to ensure failed communication. I think the premise that 'common usage' represents a word in a language is erroneous. The minimum criteria should be a word that is universally understood by anyone fluent in the language. This precludes words that apply to cliquey business usages – usually derived by idiots for idiots.

  20. Alex Grigoriev says:


    Adding to GWO, coda also doesn't mean what you think it means.

    Coda is a conclusion of the whole movement, and it's not just a "passage", but can be quite elaborate.

  21. Joe says:

    The word "passage" say nothing about how elaborate it is. Thus it is exactly what I said it is; "the concluding passage."

  22. Leonardo Herrera says:

    Cadence is not beat. A rythmic cadence indicates the end of a pattern; this is the cause that people mistakes this for "beat." I don't think the other meaning (tonal cadence) is the cause of it, thought since it also marks the resolution of a progression (which also has beat) people may also confound it as "rythm".

    Anyways, I think this Microspeak bit is so unnerving that I had to post a comment.

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