I hope this doesn't sound like a silly question but recently some work was done on some software and someone asked me if everything was working and I responded "everything is looking nominal".

From what i've searched using it as an adjective outside of an engineering term it would mean a few different things. But mostly in engineering it means everything is on track. Dictionary

Did I use the word Nominal correctly?

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    Normal is more likely. Jun 13, 2022 at 14:05
  • When you say ".... in engineering it means everything is on track" , can you give a reference ?
    – Prem
    Jun 13, 2022 at 14:07
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    This is jargon that I have heard on news coverage of space launches at NASA. i.e. "Everything is looking nominal" Jun 13, 2022 at 14:19
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    So, you already know how the term is used in other kinds of engineering, and the question is whether it is OK to extend this usage to software engineering (or would that be confusing, given that the word is used very differently outside engineering contexts). Is that a fair reformulation of the question?
    – jsw29
    Jun 13, 2022 at 16:38

2 Answers 2


Short answer: No, this usage of nominal is just for rocket launches.

I found this definition in the definitions section of a certain body of U.S. Law on space launches:

Nominal means, in reference to launch vehicle performance, trajectory, or stage impact point, a launch vehicle flight where all vehicle aerodynamic parameters are as expected, all vehicle internal and external systems perform exactly as planned, and there are no external perturbing influences other than atmospheric drag and gravity.

The source is this: https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/14/401.7

Apparently this usage is legally acceptable in the context of a space launch.

To use it in a software engineering setting would be to borrow from another field of engineering. Using NASA-talk in a humdrum office is a bit jocular, even pretentious. It's like using military jargon: 'roger; copy that; affirmative'

Personally I wouldn't use it on a software project unless I was being cheeky, and only then with an audience likely to get the joke.

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    I agree with the conclusion but I'd like to propose slightly different reasoning. I don't think it works in general in software engineering, because who knows what tolerances were defined for performance of the software. Software can work great for a while and then crash when some unusual combination of input values results in the unexpected. Jun 14, 2022 at 2:10

No, based on the definitions of nominal, I do not think it fits well, "normal" is simpler and better.

adjective: nominal

  1. (of a role or status) existing in name only. "Thailand retained nominal independence under Japanese military occupation"
  • relating to or consisting of names. "the streets have names like Third Avenue, but the resemblance to Manhattan is only nominal"
  1. (of a price or amount of money) very small; far below the real value or cost. "some firms charge only a nominal fee for the service"
  1. (of a quantity or dimension, especially of manufactured articles) stated or expressed but not necessarily corresponding exactly to the real value. "legislation allowed variation around the nominal weight (that printed on each packet)"
  • ECONOMICS (of a rate or other figure) expressed in terms of a certain amount, without making allowance for changes in real value over time. "the nominal exchange rate"
  1. GRAMMAR - relating to, headed by, or having the function of a noun. "a nominal group"
  1. INFORMAL- (chiefly in the context of space travel) functioning normally or acceptably.


  • Thanks bbut in this case would it fall under INFORMAL- (chiefly in the context of space travel) functioning normally or acceptably ? I was doing soe rading and instead of just space travel it was just general engineering Jun 13, 2022 at 15:16
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    It is curious that the dictionary labels the last meaning (which is the one that is relevant here) as 'informal': I don't think that the people who regularly use the word in that sense perceive it as informal.
    – jsw29
    Jun 13, 2022 at 16:44

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