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I use this word in my daily language even without knowing what it actually means.

Technically speaking, there is no big difference between […] and […].

So what does this word imply, not in the literal sense but when we combine it with a sentence? Is there a specific context to which we are supposed to limit the usage of this word? Because I hear it almost everyday.

Can we substitute the above sentence with "literally speaking, there is no big difference between […] and […]"?

Is the word technically supposed to bring out the meaning as in "literally" does? Are they synonymous? Can we use them interchangeably? If not, then what does the word "technically" actually refer to w.r.t daily English usage?

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This is an example of political doublespeak, or weasel words. –  Thursagen May 20 '11 at 6:32
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Technically speaking, there's rarely any need to actually use the expression "technically speaking". –  FumbleFingers May 20 '11 at 13:51

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I like the Wiktionary definition which is "based on precise facts". Consider the following example:

I earn $9,000 per year and live comfortably, although technically I am below the poverty line.

"Technically" is used to introduce the contrasting observation that although the author considers herself well-off, she is in fact a pauper based on a precise definition of poverty. This use of "technically" to provide contrast seems typical.

I would not agree that "technically" and "literally" are interchangeable. "Literally" refers to the literal as opposed to figurative meaning of a word or phrase.

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Note that the definition is not based on precise facts, but the definition is "based on precise facts." Puzzled me a while... –  Boldewyn Feb 13 '12 at 16:11

Many words and phrases originate in technical jargon, where they had meanings specific to the relevant field; later, they are often popularized in regular language, where their meaning changes into something more general, less specific to the field. We may then say that such an expression is used either technically/narrowly/strictly or broadly/generally/popularly.

Kate Moss is really obese: Chanel won't hire her any more. I mean, she isn't technically obese, since her Body Mass Index, the number doctors use to determine obesity, is still quite low; but that doesn't matter on the catwalk.

Since technical jargon is often more precise and detailed than other language, the phrase technically [speaking] is tending to develop a meaning identical to strictly speaking, as in your example. This in turn may sometimes even evolve into something closer to a general intensifier, like really.

This broader use of technically is resisted by some, who feel that it introduces another synonym of strictly that we hardly need, while rendering its original sense, as used in the relevant field, unusable. They advise that technically be reserved for expressions used in a sense specific to a certain field or profession, as opposed to cases where strictly would do.


Literally means non-figuratively, non-metaphorically: if you mean something literally, you say it in such a way as to exclude anything but the simple interpretation, if several interpretations are possible.

I am literally burdened by my large breasts: their weight hurts my back. I am also figuratively/non-literally burdened, because I don't feel free to wear any shirt I like because of them.

This word too is now often used to mean something like strictly speaking, and even as a general intensifier, which is strongly discouraged by many style guides.

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If you describe something as technical, you're suggesting there are many detailed aspects and implying that perhaps it isn't reasonable to go into so much depth. So following this logic, technically is stating that something, as a result of many detailed aspects, would shed light in a different manner, usually contrary to what has been said previously as if to demonstrate a point.

In other words, you could replace technically with "If we went into more detail, you'd find that the following is true..."

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Other answers seem to cover a broader scope than the question actually requires.

In the common expression technically speaking, the precise meaning of technical isn't really the issue.

I could have preceded the above sentence with Technically speaking, - it would still be grammatically and semantically valid, even if it looked a bit odd.

That's because Technically speaking,... is an idiom (cliche, IMHO) that effectively means something like Bearing in mind some minor point of fact which I happen to know [and you either don't know or are ignoring],...

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When someone says technically it usually indicates that the statement to which they are referring is not perfectly correct, but the inaccuracies in the statement are irrelevant within the context of the discussion.

Going back to the example in the question:

Technically speaking, there is no big difference between […] and […].

I'd expect the next phrase to begin with a word like "but" followed by some example of how [...] and [...] are, as a practical matter, very different things for the speaker. Something like:

... but [...] is almost always much more expensive than [...].
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The underlying facts in the example are constant.

It is the interpretation of these facts on subjective and objective planes is what distinguishes 'technically' from otherwise.

Generally speaking, a short person appears to be heavier/ fatter than a taller person of the same weight/ girth. However, the correct profile as defined by professionals (body mass index) is what sets apart an obese person in the 'technical' sense.

Literally is not related at all. Someone who ignores what is obvious to anyone is blind (to reality), "so to speak". One who is unable to see because his vision is effected is "technically" blind.

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I use the word technically when explaining how people distort the truth without actually lying. Technically they're telling the truth, but the way it is worded misleads people into believing something else.

Swedish government 'immigrant myth busters' site example:

Myth: immigrants raise the crime rate.
Truth: Comparing crime statistics with similar countries reflects no major differences between Swedens crime rate and other countries! (implication is that there is no problem with the crime rate as determined by a high immigration rate from 3rd world islamic countries)

That is a technical truth. Literal truth: The comparison countries also have very high rates of Third-World refugee immigration, so the comparison is not proof of anything, other than that those countries suffer the same criminal problems we do. It does not 'bust the myth' and essentially is a lie. The only real comparison to 'bust the myth' would be a comparison to historical crime figures. However, technically their response is the truth.

The line 'when compared to similar countries, etc.' — that is the truth; but as the meaning behind the line is to prove there is no problem with crime due to immigration, it is literally a lie.

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