Technically speaking?

2012-06-12 16:22



Technically speaking?

Reader question:

Please explain “technically speaking” and this whole sentence:

He gets the odd part-time job now and then but, technically speaking, he is unemployed and possibly now unemployable.

My comments:

He sometimes gets part-time jobs. That means he works and gets paid sometimes. He’s employed, then, isn’t he?

Not exactly. Not if you speak strictly, legally, unmistakably by definition. By legal definition, perhaps one is formally declared employed only if one has a full-time job for some time.

Different governments must have different rules over how to define employment and unemployment, but the long and short is in the above example the odd part-time job is not considered employment.

Loosely speaking, any job is employment, but strictly speaking, it apparently isn’t.

Technically speaking, you see, is like being technical, and scientific, strictly following rules and being absolutely exact when we speak.

Literally, you can view “technically speaking” as speaking the language of technicians and technocrats – they are strict, perhaps rigid in speech using a lot of jargons sometimes only they themselves understand. Technical people being technical people, you cannot mistake them for that – being technical in speech and unmistakable.

In common language, though, technically speaking is usually interchangeable with strictly speaking, meaning “if we want to be exact”.

Again, in the top example, “he” is considered unemployed because he’s registered as such with the government and perhaps still gets employment benefits on a weekly or monthly, basis. And therefore, even though he sometimes works part-time, he remains, technically speaking, unemployed.

By the way, I said he gets “employment benefits”. That’s another technical jargon. It’s only a few dollars and cents he gets from the government, I am sure, for being unable to work. I mean, the money is often way below the minimum wage and therefore not much of a “benefit” to speak of. A benefit, technically speaking and by dictionary definition, is a form of advantage. I just cannot see unemployment as an advantage, in any shape or form.

OK, I get it. In comparison with people who don’t have a job and don’t get paid by the government for being out of work, to have “employment benefits”, however small in amount, is an advantage. OK. Let’s say thank-you to the government – for handing out the said benefits and for giving such a good name to them as well.

One more thing, “he” is said to be “unemployed and possibly now unemployable”, what does “unemployable” mean?

It means that it’s perhaps impossible for him to get a permanent job now. Why? Because he’s been unemployed for too long. Perhaps he’s just getting used to staying unemployed. Perhaps being out of work for so long that he’s out of touch with the work place, so out of touch with the routine, tempo and lifestyle in general, including the hustle and the humdrum that he no longer tries to find a job. Perhaps times are changed now. Technology changes so fast that he’s perhaps permanently left behind. For example, he was a good tools man, with but nowadays every way you turn, people are operating robots and computers at work.

Anyways, that’s with “unemployable”.

You can quit a job, but don’t ever quit learning new things.

Speaking of learning, let’s now learn a few media examples of “technically speaking”:

1. MBARI’s seafloor mapping robot has had a busy year. It documented a huge lava flow from a three-month-old volcanic eruption off the Oregon coast; it charted mysterious three-kilometer-wide scour marks on the seafloor off Northern California; and it unearthed data that challenge existing theories about one of the largest offshore faults in Central California. MBARI researchers will describe these achievements, and others, in 10 different presentations at this week’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

Technically speaking, this yellow, torpedo-like robot is known as an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). It is programmed at the surface, then released to fly within 50 meters (165 feet) of the seafloor, using sonar to map ocean-bottom features as little as 15 centimeters (five inches) tall. MBARI’s mapping AUV, the D. Allan B., carries three different types of sonar, which simultaneously provide information on seafloor depth, bottom texture, and sub-bottom features such as layers of buried sediment.

- Seafloor-mapping robot yields a host of new geologic discoveries,, December 5, 2011.

2. Recently I’ve noticed a lot of searches on this website for the phrase “federal inheritance tax,” so I thought it would be a good idea to explain a few things about the phrase. First and foremost, technically speaking there is no such thing as a federal “inheritance tax.” Instead, the Internal Revenue Code calls the tax assessed against the estate of a deceased person an “estate tax.” So what’s the difference between an estate tax and an inheritance tax? In the strictest sense an estate tax is assessed against the entire estate while an inheritance tax is only assessed against the individual heirs of an estate.

For instance, if the Internal Revenue Code stated that property transferred after death to a person’s spouse or descendants would not be taxed, but property transferred to the same person’s brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, or anyone else would be taxed, then that would be an example of an inheritance tax. But that’s not what the Internal Revenue Code says, instead it says that a deceased person’s entire estate is subject to the estate tax regardless of who inherits it. There are, however, various deductions from the federal estate tax which exclude transfers to spouses who are U.S. citizens and transfers to certain charitable organizations from the tax, which certainly does confuse the matter even more.

So why care about the technical difference between an estate tax and an inheritance tax? Because currently there are 7 states that assess an inheritance tax based on who inherits what and there are 17 states plus the District of Columbia that assess an estate tax based on the entire value of the estate. In fact, two states, Maryland and New Jersey, assess both an inheritance tax and an estate tax, which goes to show that particularly in these states, the phrase “estate tax” is certainly not interchangeable with the phrase “inheritance tax.”

With all of that said, the phrases “estate tax,” “inheritance tax” and even “death tax” are often used interchangeably by the media to describe any tax that is collected as the result of someone’s death, but now you know that legally speaking there is a real difference between an estate tax and an inheritance tax.

- What is the Federal Inheritance Tax?, February 15, 2012.

3. Sovereign default, as a rule, is nasty business. It ripples throughout the world’s financial system, rattling investors and sparking huge sell-offs.

That is why the investing world is so focused on Greece, which is teetering on the edge of default. On Tuesday, markets tanked on worries that enough holders of Greek debt might not agree to the restructuring deal that had been negotiated. The deadline is Wednesday. Some analysts warn that such a default would trigger another financial crisis on the order of the 2008 meltdown after the failure of Lehman Brothers, perhaps worse.

By Wednesday, news out of Greece was a little more reassuring. At least two-thirds of Greece’s debt-holders are likely to accept the restructuring, which would trigger collective-action clauses that would force all the bond-holders to accept the deal. If 90 percent of the bond-holders take the deal, then it wouldn’t trigger a default, technically speaking.

But make no mistake: Greece is defaulting, even if it’s dubbed “voluntary”. The banks and other holders of its debt will get back only a fraction of what they invested. This is how nations work off their excess debt: Everyone from taxpayers to bond-holders takes a hit. It’s a process that Portugal, Japan, and other nations will have to go through to bring their debt back down to a manageable level.

Greece is an example for other nations of what it’s like to go through the economic wringer of default. It isn’t pretty.

- Greek default? It’s already happening, debt deal or not,, March 7, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


Do you second-guess?

Manufacturing hits brick wall

Get it out of your system

All comers?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)

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