physical number

Dave Robertson ddr11 at UVIC.CA
Fri May 26 20:02:01 UTC 2006

Does anyone have an analysis of how this phrase developed?

I can think of two real-world instances of its use.

1) A person trying to express to me that she was referring to the numeral
"2," not the spelled-out word "two" she said, "I mean the physical number two."

2) A person trying to specify that she was referring to a toll phone number,
not an 800 number she said, "I'll give you the PHYSICAL number."

The expression "physical number" has jarred me when I've heard it.  It's
clearly a development related to meaning extensions of "physical" (actual as
opposed to ideal, and so on).

Googling gives me the impression that "physical number" is a term of art for
computer programmers, maybe a separate development.


--Dave R.

The American Dialect Society -

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