I'm looking for a word which encapsulates the above concept. An example: when someone knows how to use their phone, but doesn't understand how to take it apart, put it together, etc.

  • 4
    Perhaps they have an operational understanding.
    – WS2
    Oct 15, 2015 at 17:11
  • 1
    on the internet they might be called a (l)user
    – Jim
    Oct 15, 2015 at 17:11
  • 1
    A basic user ?
    – Graffito
    Oct 15, 2015 at 18:39
  • 1
    An end user might know how something works, but they don't have to. Oct 15, 2015 at 21:00
  • functional understanding
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 15, 2015 at 21:33

5 Answers 5


We may use the simplistic term :

•WORKING KNOWLEDGE — the adjective can be made WORKABLE if need be.

But I would love to use - BASICS - in all these situations.

  • 1
    Yes; almost certainly the best answer. But ELU requires that even correct answers should have supporting references, linked and attributed, where this is reasonable. Wiktionary, for instance, is ideal here. Sep 30, 2020 at 10:48
  • I value your profundity. Write something by way of comment. That would be fine! Oct 4, 2020 at 15:34
  • Just add a linked and attributed definition from say Wiktionary, with an example sentence if they provide one. Oct 4, 2020 at 15:36

There is a relevant term, but it refers to the object being used, not to the user. In your example, the person is using their phone as a black box. As Wikipedia says,

a black box is a device, system or object which can be viewed in terms of its inputs and outputs [...], without any knowledge of its internal workings.

  • It's usually used in an academic rather than an everyday register. Sep 30, 2020 at 10:44

I'm unable to dismantle and/or repair much of the technology I use - mechanical and electrical. In these instances I would describe myself as a consumer.


I would call it superficial understanding, which suggests that there is a lot that is not understood (the inner workings of the device).


In the academia we term what you are asking for as Recipe knowledge. Vennix, J. (2019) defines recipe knowledge as "knowledge about fairly routine issues that we use every day in our (social) discourse." Moreover, Vennix gives an example of making a phone call without being an expert in how telecommunication works.

  • Schu¨tz (1964) apparently coined the term 'recipe knowledge', defining it as 'culturally learned formulas that are automatically activated and remain unquestioned as long as nothing unforeseen happens'. He actually used it to describe, in the main, traditional practices that didn't actually work (eg rubbing a sick child's body with elephant dung) but seemed not to delay a normal healing process and obviously gave some ill-founded peace of mind to families. // '[The] academia' is far too broad-brush. Linguists often have interesting discussions. Debates. Bunfights. Scientists too. Sep 30, 2020 at 10:58

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