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The person sitting next to me in the bus today was talking on the phone. One line that intrigued me was: "I'm not sure that the plan will work, we'll need a buffer."

I doubt that the word buffer fits there.

From Google:

Buffer: a person or thing that reduces a shock or that forms a barrier between incompatible or antagonistic people or things.

From Dictionary.cambridge.org:

something or someone that helps protect from harm.

I can understand what he meant when he (perhaps accidentally) used the word, but it doesn't seem to fit at all!

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    He used it correctly.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 12, 2017 at 12:25
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    Maybe a backup or plan B was the intended meaning. They are not literal buffers but offer protection. Jul 12, 2017 at 13:16
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    He could have been referring to including a buffer in a model or budget, ie there is a plan to be able to do something at a large savings, but since he's not sure the plan will work, he's not going to submit a budget with that really low cost estimate - instead he's going to put in a buffer, or additional estimated costs, in case the plan doesn't work as well as intended.
    – Brillig
    Jul 12, 2017 at 14:08
  • @Brillig maybe that was indeed what he meant, but in case he did mean to use buffer to indicate another backup plan as Yosef suggested, would it be proper? Jul 12, 2017 at 15:29
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    @Sakazuki Akainu I don't observe it used that way in modern business settings. Buffer as a cost contingency is extremely common, and I never hear it used to describe a backup plan. However, if there was another option that could be done with more certainty at a greater cost then that could, as a whole, be described as a buffer with the word buffer referencing the additional estimated costs and the additional costs referencing the backup plan, so, indirectly, it may be possible.
    – Brillig
    Jul 12, 2017 at 15:34

2 Answers 2

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No, he was fine in using it. It's more apparent with your second definition than your first. He's saying:

This may not work. If it does not work, there will be harm. We want to avoid harm. We need something that will protect us from the harm. That thing that protects us is a buffer.

Which is summarized by:

I'm not sure that the plan will work, we'll need a buffer.

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Yes, the person on the phone as using this word properly.

Google now says

a person or thing that prevents incompatible or antagonistic people or things from coming into contact with or harming each other.

It is probably a bit more clear how this could apply to a plan. For example, if two events are planned very close together in time, even if they don't overlap, you might want to reschedule one to make more space in between in case the first event goes longer than planned. That gap of time between the two events would be the "buffer" in this situation. There are other ways a buffer could apply to a plan, but this is the first that comes to mind.

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