Monthly Archives: March 2009

Talk Like a Physicist Day

Today, 3.14, is International Talk Like a Physicist Day. I talk like a physicist every day, because I’m a physicist. But if you’re not a physicist and you’d like to join in, then there are plenty of tips to be found at

Order of Magnitude: Use terms like “orders of magnitude” to describe significant differences of scale.

Negligible: When something is small, say it is “negligible” non-zero, but negligible.

Infinitesimal: If it is really really small, say it is infinitesimal.

Non-trivial: For a physicist, nothing is ever hard or difficult – it is always “non-trivial”.

First-order approximation : “That is only a first-order approximation to a good cup of coffee”, “The living room is clean. Well … at least to a first order approximation.”

Empirical Data: Any actual personal experience becomes “empirical data.” i.e. a burn on your hand is empirical data that the oven is hot.

Ground State: You’re not being lazy, you are in your ground state.

Extrapolation: A semi-educated guess is an extrapolation.

Ideal Case: You aren’t ignoring details, you are taking the ideal case.

Vanishingly small: A tiny amount is “vanishingly small” or “negligible.” Really small is “infinitesimal”.

Photons: It’s not light, they are photons. Turning on the lamp becomes “emitting photons”.

Exercise to Reader: The rest is history becomes “the rest is left as an exercise to the reader…”.

Not even wrong: Someone is making an argument using assumptions that are known to be wrong, or are making an argument that can’t be falsified.