BIK Terminology—

Solving the terminology puzzle, one posting at a time

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    Barbara Inge Karsch - Terminology Consulting and Training

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Archive for the ‘Content publisher’ Category

Is “cloud” a technical term (yet)?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 11, 2011

We have jargon, we have words, we have phrases…we have terms. Can words become terms? How would that happen? And has “the cloud” arrived as a technical concept yet?

clip_image003Cloud, as a word, is part of our everyday vocabulary. With the summer over, it’ll again be part of our daily lives in the Pacific Northwest for the next eight months. On the right is a good definition from the Merriam Webster Learner’s Dictionary. The Learner’s Dictionary is not concerned with technical language, as it is compiled for non-native speakers. So, the definition doesn’t allude to the fact that clouds, in a related sense, are also part of the field of meteorology and therefore part of a language for special purposes (LSP).

When common everyday words are used in technical communication and with specialized meaning, they have become terms through a process called terminologization. Is cloud, as in cloud computing, there yet? Or is it still in this murky area where marketing babel meets technical communication? It certainly was initially.

Here is a great blog on when cloud was used for the first time. Author John M. Willis asked his Twitter followers Who Coined The Phrase Cloud Computing? and could then trace back the first occurrences to May of 1997 and a patent application for “cloud computing” by NetCentric; then to a 1999 NYT article that referred to a Microsoft “cloud of computers”, and finally to a speech by Google’s Eric Schmidt who Willis says he would pick as the moment when the cloud metaphor became mainstream.

Cloud Managed, really? Picture by BIK

That was 2006, and “the cloud” may have become part of the tech world’s hype, but it wasn’t a technical term with a solid and clearly delineated definition. As Willis points out “cloud computing was a collection of related concepts that people recognized, but didn’t really have a good descriptor for, a definition in search of a term, you could say.”

Yes, we had the designator, but did we really have a clear definition? In my mind, everyone defined it differently. For a while, the idea of “the cloud” was batted around mostly by marketing and advertising folks whose job it is to use hip language and create positive connotations. When “the cloud” and other marketing jargon sound like dreams coming true to disposed audiences, they usually spell nightmare to terminologists. The path of a “cloud dream” into technical language is a difficult one. In 2008, I was part of a terminology taskforce within the Windows Server team who tried to nail down what cloud computing was. I believe the final definition wasn’t set when I left in May 2010.

On a recent walk, though, I took my resident Azure architect evangelist (See You say Aaaazure, I say Azuuuure…) through a good analysis of the conceptual area. Although Greg kept saying that some of the many companies in cloud computing these days “would also include x, y, or z,” x, y and z all turned out to not be “essential characteristics.” And we ended up with the following definition. It is based largely on the one published by Netlingo, but modified to meet more of the criteria of a terminological definition:


“A type of computing in which dynamic, scalable and virtual resources are provided over the Internet and which includes services that provide common business applications online and accessible from a Web browser, while the software and data are stored on servers.”

Wouldn’t it be great, if a terminologist could stand by to assist any time a new concept is being created somewhere? Then, we’d have nice definitions and well-formed terms and appellations right away. Since that is utopia, at least it helps to be aware that language is in flux, that marketing language might be deliberately nebulous, and that it might take time before a majority of experts have agreed on what something is and how it is different from other things around it. I think “the cloud” and “cloud computing” have been terminologized and arrived in technical language.


Posted in Branding, Coining terms, Content publisher, Interesting terms, Terminologist | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Poll: Users and resource reliability

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 19, 2011

Writers, editors, translators and other professionals rely on language resources, such as terminology databases. Since they are compiled by humans, they might contain errors. How often would you consult a resource which seems unreliable?

Posted in Content publisher, Terminologist, Translator | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

A home run is a home run is a home run?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on February 20, 2011

Indeed. Except if it has been “determinologized.” If terminologization is when a common everyday word turns into a technical term, then the reverse process is when a technical term from a technical subject field becomes part of our everyday vernacular. The process was identified, analyzed and, I believe, named by Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh in a paper in Terminology in 2000.

They describe two categories of determinologization.

1. The term retains essentially the same meaning, but is no longer used by subject matter experts referring to a concept in their field. Rather the subject matter might have become popularized, and laypersons understand enough about the concept to use the term. The term in the layman’s use refers to a “more shallow” meaning of the concept or one that also has other connotations.

Good examples are medical terms of diseases that are prevalent enough for all of us to have an idea about them. Insomnia, for instance, is a condition that for medical professionals is highly complex. imageThey might break it down into sleep maintenance insomnia, sleep-onset insomnia, etc. and treated it with benzodiazepines. It might be chronic or intermittent, familial or even fatal.

At some point, we all might have talked about it in a less medical sense. Here is the entry in the Urban Dictionary—a listing on this website is a good indication that a term has become a word in common usage. And to the right is an excerpt from the South African Mail&Guardian about a chess player who can’t sleep before competitions.

In these examples, the meaning behind the word “insomnia” remains the same as in the medical context: Someone can’t sleep. But our associations don’t take us to the clinical setting, rather we get a sense of the mood of the sufferer or the chosen cure.

2. The word now describes a completely different concept. While it shares some characteristics with the meaning in the technical subject of the term, it does no longer share the essential characteristics.

The Monday-morning quarterback is not a John Elway or Peyton Manning rising on the first workday of the week. It is the guy who watched them the day before and now tells his buddies how the quarterback could have done a better job or how anyone could have done a better job in any subject matter. The essence of the concept in sports, i.e. an American football player, is completely gone in this general use of “quarterback.”clip_image004

A term from another sport, baseball, which has been determinologized, is home run. The excerpt from the Wall Street Journal shows that when someone hits a home run, there is no batter involved, not even a hit in the sport’s sense. But it is “a success.”

Enough baseball terminology has made it into the American vernacular that Dr. Jerry Roth at Sprachen- und Dolmetscher Institut in Munich gave it a special focus during our studies. He even had us meet in Englischer Garten for a game.

Why do we care? Well, if we create new terms, borrow them from other fields or languages, terminologize or determinologize them, the receiver of our message—and that does include translators in many cases—only understands it if our usage has the appropriate level of precision. Understanding the methods that we have to our avail allows us to choose the best methods. The likelihood that others will understand our message then is much higher. And after all, understanding is what communication is about.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Content publisher, Interesting terms, Process, Terminologist | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

A new tool, a new app, a new what?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on January 21, 2011

Enterprise terminologists generally don’t have the easiest job—nobody understands what they are doing, most people don’t know that they exist, and some even refuse to cooperate. A widget may be just what they need.

A widget, really? While we can argue about the (code) name of the new SDL MultiTerm Widget, the concept behind it is a good one: It is a small application that anyone in a company can use to look up the meaning of a term. They just need to highlight the term, and the application displays a hit list, either from the company terminology database (MultiTerm, of course), a search engine or any website a user indicated in the app beforehand. A few different user scenarios for the Widget come to mind.Widget Results courtesy of SDL Multiterm

If I were still a corporate terminologist, I would put on a major campaign to introduce the Widget to any communication professional through a video, a brown bag meeting, or simply an e-mail. The main focus would be on how easy it is for lawyers, trainers, marketing and branding experts, etc. to use corporate terminology consistently. As non-terminology experts, these professionals cannot bother using a terminology-expert tool. They need information, and they need it fast.

Much to my chagrin, a link to LEO, a German-English online dictionary, was embedded in the German Microsoft intranet site. Now, there is nothing wrong with an online dictionary, but it was hard to turn people’s attention to the corporate database from this simple link. Since most terminology teams don’t have huge funds for tools development, the Widget could be that simple solution to steer employees away from unmanaged and to managed corporate terminology. If you put correct and standardized terms at their fingertips, they’ll use it.

Another scenario that came to mind when I saw the Widget the other day is visitors from subsidiaries. At J.D. Edwards, German consultants would come to the Denver headquarters fairly often to attend training session on the newer technologies. Their English was quite good, but they were not always familiar with every new term. They would ask us for glossaries to assist them during the training. If they had such a tool while they were working on a project in class, they could look up critical terms in the database.

Eventually, you would want the app to allow users to share terms that are not yet part of the database. We had an integrated terminology workflow with suggestion functionality at J.D. Edwards (see Perspectives on Localization) and later at Microsoft. Small terminologist teams at large companies need to stem a flood of unmanaged terms, and the closer they are to expert information, the better.

If the Widget doesn’t take off, it’s time for Michael W. to go join Kilgray and work on qTerm. But if SDL is smart, they price it for the masses and give enterprise terminology management a major boost.

Posted in Branding, Content publisher, Subject matter expert, Tool | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Don’t use jargon!!

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on January 6, 2011

Or ‘I need to learn your jargon, so that we can understand each other’. What now? Can we use jargon or not? As so often: it depends.

I recently overheard my husband, Greg, who works with Microsoft partners interested in the MS cloud computing product, say to a partner: “I need to learn your jargon.” I nearly interrupted him to suggest that the partner send him an excerpt of the company’s terminology database. If they had one.

Apple geek spewing jargon

What do editors mean when they say “don’t use jargon”? There are two distinct concepts that are covered by the English term jargon:

  1. The specialized technical terminology characteristic of a particular subject.
  2. A characteristic language of a particular group (as among thieves).

Whether to use it or not is a matter of definition. The first meaning is really a synonym to the collection of terms or the technical terminology. Can you use that jargon? Well, what else would you use? The Microsoft partner who is in the medical software business probably flung acronyms like HIPPA and HIMSS around, and there is no way to avoid concepts like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, short HIPAA, if you are to figure out whether healthcare information can be stored in the cloud and how. Greg needs to bite the bullet. If the partner could quickly produce a list of the 20 most important terms and definitions for others to review, communication would happen faster and with fewer misunderstandings.

The second meaning is the one to stay away from, not only because the example suggests that thieves use jargon. The main problem is that it is a language that only a particular group can understand and that would exclude others. It is generally not the intent in technical communication to exclude someone from using a product or service. Since your customer base might be diverse, it is a good idea to have a clear persona in mind before developing a new product.

An example where a language mediator might go back and forth between jargon (meaning 1) and jargon (meaning 2) is medical interpretation. If a physician asks a patient about a “cardiac arrest” he chooses a technical medical term. The interpreter might chose to convey that with “heart attack” to the elderly farm worker from Latin America and therefore transfers what might have been meaningless jargon to the patient into the terminology with the right register.

Posted in Content publisher | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Corporate Language

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on December 30, 2010

In the recent TermNet survey, 60% of participants stated that they agreed with the statement “corporate language helps to set a company off from its competitors”. What is corporate language? Think tall, grande, and venti.

60% is not a lot. I expected more. It could be that people didn’t know for sure what “corporate language” is. And while researching, I couldn’t find an English definition. The German equivalent comes up a lot more often. From responses to the blog on my Facebook site, it also seems that Firmensprache triggers fewer emotional responses than corporate language does. But let me try to describe it.taskbar (code name "superbar")

On the one hand side, it is the plethora of acronyms and terms, the jargon that employees of a company use in their daily work. An example of corporate language that is used “inside” of a company is code names. For Windows 7, the revised taskbar was internally called superbar.

On the other hand, it is the terms, words, phrases, names, slogans, etc., in short, the language that is used to communicate with “the outside world” of clients and partners. That also includes the corporate style. Ideally, what is used towards the outside is also used on the inside. Why? Because consistency is one of the critical aspects of a functioning corporate language. We can still find superbar on the internet today. It may not have done damage, but it wasn’t the most straightforward and clear communication about a revised feature for Windows 7.

In The Importance of Consistent Brand Messaging branding expert, Rick Thompson, emphasizes the importance of consistency: “You must speak to the market with one unified voice. The brand character must be defined and socialized to everyone in the company so they can design, develop, support, sell and market the product in a manner consistent with the essence of the brand.”

Tea during TKE in DublinHow do you make sure that employees speak with one voice? You guessed it: Terminology management. Designators, i.e. terms, appellations and symbols, are the linguistic and symbolic representation of a brand. Well-motivated and managed designators enable a company to be consistent in the messaging. By applying terminology management methods, those designators are documented correctly and available to everyone in the company at any time.

Not all corporate terms are well-motivated or work equally well, of course: How many of you have gone to a competing brand of Starbucks and ordered a venti? I wouldn’t be caught dead.

Posted in Branding, Content publisher | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

How many terms do we need to document?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on December 17, 2010

Each time a new project is kicked off this question is on the table. Content publishers ask how much are we expected to document. Localizers ask how many new terms will be used.

Who knows these things when each project is different, deadlines and scopes change, everyone understands “new term” to mean something else, etc. And yet, there is only the need to agree on a ballpark volume and schedule. With a bit of experience and a look at some key criteria, expectations can be set for the project team.

In a Canadian study, shared by Kara Warburton at TKE in Dublin, authors found that texts contain 2-4% terms. If you take a project of 500,000 words, that would be roughly 15,000 terms. In contrast, product glossary prepared for end-customers in print or online contain 20 to 100 terms. So, the discrepancy of what could be defined and what is generally defined for end-customers is large.

A product glossary is a great start. Sometimes, even that is not available. And, yet, I hear from at least one customer that he goes to the glossary first and then navigates the documentation. Ok, that customer is my father. But juxtapose that to the remark by a translator at a panel discussion at the ATA about a recent translation project (“aha, the quality of writing tells me that this falls in the category of ‘nobody will read it anyway’”), and I am glad that someone is getting value out of documentation.Microsoft ClipArt

In my experience, content publishing teams are staffed and ready to define about 20% of what localizers need. Ideally, 80% of new terms are documented systematically in the centralized terminology database upfront and the other 20% of terms submitted later, on an as-needed basis. Incidentally, I define “new terms” as terms that have not been documented in the terminology database. Anything that is part of a source text of a previous version or that is part of translation memories cannot be considered managed terminology.

Here are a few key criteria that help determine the number of terms to document in a terminology database:

  • Size of the project: small, medium, large, extra-large…?
  • Timeline: Are there five days or five months to the deadline?
  • Version: Is this version 1 or 2 of the product? Or is it 6 or 7?
  • Number of terms existing in the database already: Is this the first time that terminology has been documented?
  • Headcount: How many people will be documenting terms and how much time can they devote?
  • Level of complexity: Are there more new features? Is the SME content higher than normal?

These criteria can serve as guidelines, so that a project teams knows whether they are aiming at documenting 50 or 500 terms upfront. If memory serves me right, we added about 2700 terms to the database for Windows Vista. 75% was documented upfront. It might be worthwhile to keep track of historic data. That enables planning for the next project. Of course, upfront documentation of terms takes planning. But answering questions later is much more time-consuming, expensive and resource-intense. Hats off to companies, such as SAP, where the localization department has the power to stop a project when not enough terms were defined upfront!

Posted in Content publisher, Selecting terms, Translator | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Gerunds, oh how we love them

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on December 9, 2010

Well, actually we do. They are an important part of the English language. But more often than not do they get used incorrectly in writing and, what’s worse, documented incorrectly in terminology entries.

I have been asked at least a few times by content publishers whether they can use gerunds or whether a gerund would present a problem for translators. It doesn’t present a problem for translators, since translators do not work word for word or term for term (see this earlier posting). They must understand the meaning of the semantic unit in the source text and then render the same meaning in the target language, no matter the part of speech they choose.

It is a different issue with machine translation. There is quite a bit of research in this area of natural language processing. Gerunds, for example, don’t exist in the German language (see Interaction between syntax and semantics: The case of gerund translation ). But more importantly, gerunds can express multiple meanings and function as verbs or nouns (see this article by Rafael Guzmán). Therefore, human translators have to make choices. They are capable of that. Machines are not. If you are writing for machine translation and your style guide tells you to avoid gerunds, you should comply.

Because gerunds express multiple meanings, they are also interesting for those of us with a terminologist function. I believe they are the single biggest source of mistakes I have seen in my 14 years as corporate terminologist. Here are a few examples.

Example 1:

Example 2:



In Example 1, it is clear that logging refers to a process. The first instance could be part of the name of a functionality, which, as the first instance in Example 2 shows, can be activated. In the second instance (“unlike logging”) is not quite clear what is meant. I have seen logging used as a synonym to the noun log, i.e. the result of logging. But here, it probably refers to the process or the functionality.

It matters what the term refers to; it matters to the consumer of the text, the translator, who is really the most critical reader, and it matters when the concepts are entered in the terminology database. It would probably be clearest if the following terms were documented:

  • logging = The process of recording actions that take place on a computer, network, or system. (Microsoft Language Portal)
  • logging; log = A record of transactions or events that take place within an IT managed environment. (Microsoft Language Portal)
  • Process Monitoring logging = The functionality that allows users to …(BIK based on context)
  • log = To record transactions or events that take place on a computer, network or system. (BIK based on Microsoft Language Portal).

Another example of an –ing form that has caused confusion in the past is the term backflushing. A colleague insisted that it be documented as a verb. To backflush, the backflushing method or a backflush are curious terms, no doubt (for an explanation see But we still must list them in canonical form and with the appropriate definition. Why? Well, for one thing, anything less than precise causes more harm than good even in a monolingual environment. But what is a translator or target terminologist to do with an entry where the term indicates that it is an adjective, the definition, starts with “A method that…”, and the Part of Speech says Verb? Hopefully, they complain, but if they don’t and simply make a decision, it’ll lead to errors. Human translators might just be confused, but the MT engine won’t recognize the mistake.

So, the answer to the question: “Can I use gerunds?” is, yes, you can. But be sure you know exactly what the gerund stands for. The process or the result? If it is used as a verb, document it in its canonical form. Otherwise, there is trouble.

Posted in Content publisher, Interesting terms, Machine translation, Setting up entries, Translator | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

Call for Participation

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on November 21, 2010

What is happening or not happening on the North American market? And what do people in the content supply chain identify as the biggest communication problem? With a focus on terminology, of course. These are the goals, among others, of a survey commissioned by the International Network of Terminology (TermNet).

The survey targets communication professionals, such as translators, terminologists, content publishers, branding and marketing experts on the one hand side and project managers as well as decision makers on the other. They can be located anywhere along the content supply chain—in a company, at a language service provider or on the freelance market. But they should be working in or for the North American market. The survey is focused on several different industries, but not limited to the ones called out specifically.

For those who are not familiar with TermNet, it “is an international co-operation forum for companies, universities, institutions and associations who engage in the further development of the global terminology market. TermNet was founded on the initiative of UNESCO, with the aim to establish a network for co-operation in the field of terminology. In 1988, TermNet was registered as a non-profit organization being allowed commercial activities for the benefit of its members.”

Please participate in the survey and invite all your colleagues and managers! It should take no more than 15 min. You can opt in at the end to receive results and participate in a prize drawing. Click on the TermNet logo to begin.

TermNet Logo

Thank you very much!

Posted in Branding, Content publisher, Events, Terminologist, TermNet, Translator | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Jump List? Or what should we call it?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 14, 2010

Giving a new concept a name in a source language often leads directly to the question of what to do with it in another language. This seems like a problem for target terminologists and translators, right? It isn’t. Marketing, branding and content publishing folks listen up!

We have just created a new term or appellation according to best practices from ISO 704. Now, what do we call it in the target language? What do we do with new designations, such as Azure or jump list? Well, the same best practices apply for target language terms as well. But there is a difference for terms and appellations.image

Terms represent generic concepts. They are the parent concept or superordinate to other concepts. The concept called “operating system” in English has many different subordinate concepts, e.g. Windows, Linux, or Mac OS. Many times generic concepts have native-language equivalents in other languages. Of course, a particular language may borrow a term from another language, a direct loan. But that should be a deliberate term formation method and it is just one of them, as discussed in What I like about ISO 704.

An appellation represents an individual concept, one that is unique. Like you and me. And just as our parents gave us names that should represent us to the world—some very common and transparent, others peculiar or extraordinary—products get names that represent them to buyers. The criteria for good formation are weighted slightly differently than they are when used during new term formation: An appellation might be deliberately not transparent or consistent with the rest of the subject field. After all, it is a new product that is supposed to stand out. And it might be deliberately in another language.

Windows Azure™ is the appellation for “a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform,” according to the official website. If we leave aside the trademark for a moment, nobody in their right mind would use the literal translations “Fenster ‘Azurblau’”, “Fenêtre bleu” or “Finestra azzurra”.  image

Once again, I find ISO 704 very helpful: “Technically, appellations are not translated but remain in their original language. However, an individual concept may have an appellation in different languages.” Good examples are international organizations which tend to have appellations in all languages of the member states, such as the European Union, die Europäische Union, or l’Union européenne.

ISO 704 goes on to say that “whether an individual concept has an appellation in more than one language depends on the following:

  • The language policy of a country;
  • How internationally well known the concept is;
  • The multilingual nature of the entity in question;
  • The need for international cooperation and relations.”

Based on this, it is pretty clear that an international organization would have an appellation in each of the languages of the member states. What about product names, such as Windows Azure? As terminologists for the target market, we should make recommendations in line with the above.

That is exactly what happened with a new feature for Windows 7, called Jump List in English. The message from the marketing department was that it was to remain in English even in the localized versions of Windows. But the problem wasn’t that simple.Example of a jump list

There are actually two concepts hidden behind this name:

  • Jump List: The Windows feature that allows users to display jump lists.
    • A unique feature and therefore an individual concept.
    • An appellation.
  • jump list: A list associated with programs pinned to the taskbar or Start menu.
    • A generic concept that can happen multiple times even within one session.
    • A technical term.
    • Erroneously capitalized in English.

Generally, when a new feature is introduced the feature gets a name and many times, the individual instances of the feature take on a term derived from the feature name. In this case, the feature was named Jump List and the instances were called Jump Lists. The later should not be uppercase and is in many instances not uppercase. But the two concepts were not differentiated, let alone defined up front.

So, when the German localizers got the instruction to keep the English term for all instances of the concept, they had a problem. They would have gotten away with leaving the appellation in English (e.g. Jump List-Funktion), but it would have been nearly impossible to get the meaning of the generic concept across or even just read the German text, had the term for the generic concept been the direct loan from the English. We could argue whether the literal translation Sprungliste represents the concept well to German users.

Naming is tricky, and those who name things must be very clear on what it is they are naming. Spelling is part of naming, and casing is part of spelling. Defining something upfront and then using it consistently supports clear communication and prevents errors in source and target texts.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Branding, Coining terms, Content publisher, Interesting terms, Terminologist, Terminology principles, Theory, Translator | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »


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