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We've all heard expressions like "We need to factor this into the equation," where mathematical words have broader meanings than strictly mathematical. I'd like to develop a collection of such usages. Of course, there's "grows exponentially" for just about any rapid growth, and "the rate has accelerated" not really meaning the third derivative. Also, there's Friedman's cool usage of "orthogonal" at the Supreme Court (https://www.librarything.com/topic/193156). Here's my two-part question: is there already list of such usages, somewhere? Can you contribute some examples?

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    $\begingroup$ This gives me an opportunity to ask, does anyone use the word "modulo" as a synonym for "ignoring" or "with disregard to." At some point, I convinced myself this was a usage of this term outside of mathematics, and a rather useful one, though I have yet to uncover it being used in this way outside of a mathematical context. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 15:11
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    $\begingroup$ For "modulo", the OED entry provides the following non-mathematical example: 1992 Stud. Eng. Lit.: Eng. Number (Tokyo) 161 The Navajo underlying structure is identical, modulo word order, to the one found in all the languages studied in Ch. 3. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ I nominate "exponential" as what may be the most misused term. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ How about "tangent" (as in "go off on a ...") and "tangential"? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 17:55
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    $\begingroup$ "smooth operator"? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 8:18

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I've often wondered whether whoever created Delta Airlines' slogan "Delta means change" had some mathematical training . . .

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    $\begingroup$ Physics, probably—hopefully there’s an aeronautics specialist somewhere in the organisational structure .... $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 18:09
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French intellectuals of a certain period made à la limite into a widespread idiom (or verbal tic) meaning, not just “borderline” or “in a pinch” as dictionaries say, but the taking of an argument to some sort of paroxystic or naked extreme. Random examples: from Philippe Sollers, Vérité de Barthes,

Myth is everywhere, it irradiates everything; in the limit, it talks to itself alone in our heads.

Or Jacques Andrieu, Psychologie de Mao Tsé-toung,

One can even say, in the limit, that only non-specialists can manage specialists.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps "at the end" would be an appropriate translation? $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 7:26
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila Yes, or “ultimately” — it’s about prime and ultimate ratios, and the ghosts of departed sanity. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ I have no reason to believe that "à la limite" comes from the mathematical meaning. $\endgroup$
    – YCor
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 19:18
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The mathematical word parameter has entered general English. And its meaning has migrated, so that "parameter" now often simply means "a boundary or limit".

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  • $\begingroup$ parameter gets confused with perimeter in much general usage. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ The usage note in the American Heritage Dictionary is interesting on this one. It does not mention confusion with "perimeter," so I don't really think that's a major cause of this usage. More likely the interpretation of a parameter as an external constraint on the system. ahdictionary.com/word/… $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 17:19
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French has an expression "c'est epsilon" meaning something like "it's negligible". French wiktionary says this sense is "par extension" from the mathematical usage.

There's also lambda "(Éthologie) Un membre considéré comme le plus ordinaire d’un ensemble", which might have a mathematical origin.

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A few more examples: infinite wealth, countless visits, uncountable advantages, success a function of hard work, appeal to the lowest common denominator, Venn diagram of circle A plus circle B.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it the same meaning of ‘denominator’? I’ve never really understood. $\endgroup$
    – LSpice
    Commented Dec 21, 2019 at 18:11

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