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Help! A former colleague got all of us using the expression "x is long pole in the tent" to mean:

  • x is the person or issue that's preventing forward progress on a project
  • x is the person or issue that will take up the most time on a project

Besides not being a familiar idiom for some, the expression has sexual overtones. What would be a better alternative?

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The "long tent pole" is what is holding up the show. –  rpm Oct 6 at 15:39

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You could say that a person or issue is a bottleneck in the project.

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Merriam Webster defines the phrase as: "The most important issue or problem that prevents or slows progress, especially on a project. The factor that must be addressed before all others or that has the most far-reaching effects." William Safire wrote a column about the phrase and illustrated how it has two overlapping meanings. He defined one as “the central determinant, the pole bearing the most weight of the tent structure.” The second meaning--brought about by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney--is “the source of delay, in the sense of holding everything else up.”

The most blunt way of conveying the same meaning is to say "x is the biggest problem" or "x is the major issue." But if you wanted to be less direct you could say "x is the bottleneck (or choke point)" or "x is on the critical path (or road to completion)."

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thanks for the link to the article! –  matt eisenberg May 22 '12 at 20:01

X is on the project's critical path

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