There are some words in the English language that are more known for their figurative meaning than that actual literal meaning. This happens when a figurative meaning is developed, and it becomes so popular that it supersedes the literal one. There are also times when the meaning of a word will change depending on a few factors such as the context it is used in, the person saying or using it and the environment it is being said. The phrase we are going to be talking about today is one that is mostly used in official settings and on documents or forms. This phrase is “Not applicable”
Most times one subculture might come up with the first meaning, and that meaning becomes so popular that another subculture begins using it and then transforming its meaning as well. All the above is what the idiom “not applicable” has undergone since its invasion into everyday lexicon.
What does “Not applicable” mean?
“Not applicable” is the term that is generally used to highlight information that isn’t available. It is also used for information that doesn’t pertain to that particular situation or scenario. “Not applicable” is generally abbreviated using N/A or n/a.
Where does “Not applicable” originate from?
“Not applicable” actually originates from computing systems and applications design, as these systems were created to handle just a few types of responses. These systems needed to also be able to handle a non-response if necessary, hence Not applicable being used. The phrase itself is another way of saying no answer or not available, meaning that the request or question asked doesn’t have a defined reply.
While there are various uses for “Not applicable”, the most popular one has to do with databases, as there had to be a different reply other than null. Null in this instance, indicates that a field hasn’t been set, meaning that it is an unknown field. “Not applicable” and its short form variants can be used to indicate that such a field is not applicable to that particular record.
3 examples of how to use “Not applicable” in a sentence
Using “Not applicable” to highlight how something doesn’t fit a particular narrative or scenario
In this instance, you use “Not applicable” to show that an idea doesn’t fit the intended narrative. Here is a news excerpt using “Not applicable” in that manner:
“These acts stem from Islamic interpretations that are more broadly held than just within IS*S and these interpretations need to be addressed, more modern Muslims say [the hadith cited by IS*S] was an instruction for a specific time and purpose and is not applicable to today, but IS*S is acting upon a widely-taught interpretation.”
Using “Not applicable” in a written document to highlight a less important detail or scenario
“I believe that the discussions of other shareholders in regard to a change in the structure or any other ventures are not applicable at the moment. The focus should be solely on searching for solutions to our current predicament so that we can move forward for the year and also for the future.
In the example above, it is simply about highlighting that the topic being talked about at the moment is not applicable or inconsequential to the matter at hand.
Using “Not applicable’ in data entry forms to represent a response
In this example, forms are generally designed with some assumptions that don’t apply to every situation. For instance, if the form is a bank application, you might be asked to present a previous address, but if you have lived in a single address your entire life, or maybe your address doesn’t quite fit in the format given because you previously lived outside the country. If this is the case for you, it would make more sense to simply write “Not applicable”
Another example would be in research. Research typically is based on surveys as well as other input from users which can generate a large number of fields that require Not applicable fields. Researchers might include “Not applicable” in their analysis as it isn’t the same as having an incomplete response that has to be discarded. The manner in which “Not applicable” is treated or interpreted thoroughly depends on the type of research and the researcher. For instance, if the research has to do with finding out levels of workplace stress, it might require respondents to answer questions such as “what type of commuting do they take to work”. Using “Not applicable” to respond can simply be interpreted as the worker not commuting at all, simply because they work from home.
“How do you commute to work?”
“Not applicable as I do not commute to work”
“How many years of previous experience do you have”
“Not applicable” if you do not have any experience at all.