I have noticed a trend that where in the past one would simply use the word "fee", now the phrase "nominal fee" is always used. As far as I understand, the word "nominal" literally means "in name only". So a "nominal fee" would be a fee so low that it is not really a fee at all, but is a fee "in name only".

For example a swimming beach in my area has a website where they say "the beach is open to the public for a nominal fee of $8". In my estimation, $8 is not in any way low... if anything it is average and is probably more on the high side for swimming. It would have to be on the order of $1 or $2 to be considered "nominal" in my estimation.

Is this a case of misuse of a term, where people think the word "nominal" always goes before the word "fee" and don't understand its meaning?

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    I will answer that question for a hefty fee. – Robusto Jul 17 '13 at 21:37
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    That's so annoying! . . . and right up there with crap sold on the TV that touts "and get the second POS free - just pay additional service and handling charge". Now shipping and handling charges are separate presumably, but to me, "service" and "handling" charges are two words for the SAME THING! (yeesh!) – Kristina Lopez Jul 17 '13 at 21:47
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    @KristinaLopez: Exactly! And why shouldn't handing be included in the price? The only reason to exclude shipping is because different customers might pay different shipping costs. This does not apply to "handling" or "service". Airlines are/were the worst, where they used to tripe the amount advertised through fees, taxes, and levies. Luckily that is now at least forbidden in the EU for plane tickets. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 17 '13 at 21:49
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    In electronics-speak, "nominal" usually indicates a plus-or-minus factor, as in, for example, the impedance of a loudspeaker. Nominally (i.e., in name only), a speaker's impedance may be eight ohms, but in actual use the impedance will fluctuate up or down a bit, but only by a nominal (i.e., minimal) amount, but not enough to re-label it as anything other than an eight-ohm speaker. – rhetorician Jul 17 '13 at 22:39
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    Isn't $8 a rather low fee for swimming by a blue whale? – Andreas Blass Jul 18 '13 at 3:01

You are absolutely right: this is an inflation of the word "nominal", which ought to mean "(so low as to be) in name only". You would normally not name the exact amount if you say it's a "nominal fee"; you just say this:

The beach is open for a nominal fee.

You might add the actual fee in brackets. Perhaps whoever made that sign didn't quite understand the proper use of "nominal".

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    It’s these people who write “notional fee” who really bug me. – tchrist Jul 17 '13 at 21:50
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    They should really be saying, "This beach is not free. You have to pay to gain admittance". – Kristina Lopez Jul 17 '13 at 21:51
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    @tchrist - "notional fee"? That's crossed from annoying into plain ignorant! – Kristina Lopez Jul 17 '13 at 21:52
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    @tchrist, KristinaLopez . That depends. "Nominal" means the real amount, and is used in situations where you pay the fake amount. "Notional" means "fake amount", but used in situations where you pay the real amount. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notional_amount – Pacerier Dec 13 '17 at 6:03
  • See here: english.stackexchange.com/questions/364842/… The real meaning of nominal may well be "within normal limits" – Joshua Jun 1 '18 at 1:24

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