In technical support, engineering and design circles, unobtanium is used in much the same way as MacGuffin. It has one physical property that is consistent between samples and is perfectly ordinary on this planet. As indicated by its name, it can't be had for love or money. As a result, any system which is behind schedule, over budget, awaiting repair, or has been found to be impossible to implement is typically "awaiting the next shipment of unobtanium."

The word is also a (light) play on the incredibly silly, boring and politically correct method of naming the higher elements when credit for their discovery is in dispute. When U.S. and Soviet teams, for example, both claimed to have synthesized element 105 (Atomic number 105) in the lab before the other team, periodic tables published in many places around the world (including, to their credit, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.) listed the name of the element as 'Unnilpentium.' The name is a direct transliteration of the atomic number's digits: 'Un' (1) 'nil' (0) 'pent' (5) -ium.

Unobtanium is also, therefore, one of the only elements which, by the very rules of logic, cannot be observed in its raw state. Any information concerning an actual piece of unobtanium typically involves quantum proof of the existence of that piece, which would have had to be obtained for measurement.