Uncertain Principles (Brad DeLong)

Uncertain Principles: Talk Like a Physicist Economist

Patrick Nielsen Hayden directs us to Chad Orzel, who writes:

Uncertain Principles: Talk Like a Physicist: Today has been dubbed “Talk Like a Physicist Day”. Why? Because we’re at least as cool as pirates, that’s why. Over at Swans on Tea, Tom offers some vocabulary tips:

Use “canonical” when you mean “usual” or “standard.” As in, “the canonical example of talking like a physicist is to use the word ‘canonical.'”

Use “orthogonal” to refer to things that are mutually-exclusive or can’t coincide. “We keep playing phone tag — I think our schedules must be orthogonal”

“About” becomes “to a first-order approximation”

Things are not difficult, they are “non-trivial”

Large discrepancies are “orders of magnitude apart”

Other suggestions: a situation isn’t “bad,” it’s “sub-optimal.” “Finite” can mean either “really big, but not infinite,” or “really small, but not zero.” If you really want to sound advanced, something that moves from one state to another slowly– say, a highway driver who takes a mile and a half to move from one lane into the other– does so “adiabatically.”

I know I’m missing some obvious verbal tics. Leave your suggestions in the comments.

The scary thing is that all of these except “adiabatically” are used by us economists too, in our pathetic attempt to ape the physicists…


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