Technical terms I find useful in everyday conversation

Soon after I stopped blogging last year, I realized that I had a lot of things I wanted to say, just as before, and I had deprived myself of a channel for them. So I did the next best thing: I published notes on Facebook. For the first few days of this new blog’s life, I will simply cross-post those notes here, so if you’re already my friend on Facebook, you won’t be seeing any new material for a while; but I’m going to get through these one per day, so you won’t have long to wait.

I typically use the economic, logical, statistical, and psychological terms for their literal meanings. I am the kind of person who prefers to think about things quantitatively, so that, for example, I am likely to talk about leverage and indifference curves when on everyday topics, like dating.

On the other hand, the terms from computer science, biology, chemistry, and physics are domain-specific, and I have imported them out of their domain and into everyday conversation by analogy. For example, I have referred to my own capacity to chat with people as my “bandwidth”; “making a move” on an object of romantic interest might be called breaching the “activation barrier”; and, of course, I abuse the term “entropy” just like everyone else.

Biology, Biochemistry, and Ecology

  • competitive inhibition
  • fitness
  • natural/artificial selection
  • osmosis


  • activation energy / activation barrier
  • catalyst
  • limiting reagent, excess reagent
  • rate-limiting step
  • single displacement reaction
  • transition state

Computer Science and Informatics

  • bandwidth
  • cache
  • input, output
  • latency
  • scale (v.)
  • signal-to-noise ratio
  • throughput
  • uptime

Economics and Game Theory

  • diminishing returns
  • indifference curve
  • leverage
  • Nash equilibrium
  • opportunity cost
  • sunk cost
  • utility
  • zero-sum game

Mathematics, Logic, and Statistics

  • ad hominem, ad populum; ad baculum; appeal to authority, appeal to hatred/spite/pity/fear/ridicule; argument from ignorance; argument from silence; denying the antecedent, affirming the consequent; post hoc ergo propter hoc; cum hoc ergo propter hoc (correlation does not imply causation)
  • correlation
  • extrapolation, interpolation
  • extremum (local/global maximum/minimum); optimization
  • first-order approximation
  • null hypothesis
  • pathological
  • statistical significance
  • vacuously true, vacuously false


  • entropy; Second Law
  • equilibrium


  • cognitive bias; (e.g., fundamental attribution error; confirmation bias; irrational escalation; gambler’s fallacy)
  • decision fatigue
  • ego depletion
  • flow
  • heuristic
  • primacy effect; recency effect
  • salience

About Brian

Hi! I'm Brian Bi. As of November 2014 I live in Sunnyvale, California, USA and I'm a software engineer at Google. Besides code, I also like math, physics, chemistry, and some other miscellaneous things.
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1 Response to Technical terms I find useful in everyday conversation

  1. Sean says:

    I find that I make a lot of analogies to activation energy, metastable states, etc. in everyday conversation.

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