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 ‘Coining terms’ 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 »


Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on March 22, 2011


What do you call a user of the Twitter short messaging service who is liked and admired by other users?

A tweetheart! And how do you use the term? Here is an example of how Belgian tennis player, Kim Clijsters, used it in a tweet from the Yahoo-Eurosport site: "Happy Australia day to all my Aussie tweethearts!" It earned her the Tweet of the Day.

I am not a Twitter user, or tweeter, but the terminology of Twitter has been the subject of many conversations. While this social media has been emerging at an incredible pace, some of the terminology around it is quite well developed. The glossary provided by the Twitter service contains the basics. But it doesn’t list all the good (and bad) terms that have sprung up around the service.

Some of the terms that don’t work so well are impossible to pronounce. The list in this article on contains designations, like Twitpocalypse, which is defined as “the moment when the identification number of individual tweets surpassed the capacity of the most common data type. The Twitpocalypse crashed a number of Twitter clients.” The motivation behind the name is clear, though.

This article* in the quarterly webzine of the Macmillan English Dictionaries, MED Magazine, has a very nice list of twitterisms. I would consider most of them quite well-motivated. If you don’t want to check out the link, here is another example: What group do people belong to whose tweets attract a large number of readers? The twitterati.

*BIK: Unfortunately this article was removed recently.

Posted in Coining terms, Interesting terms | Tagged: , , , | 6 Comments »

Brands, names and problems

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on March 20, 2011

The concept denoted by the term “brand” includes many different aspects of a product. Considering that it evolved from the common practice of burning a mark into cattle for identification, it certainly contains the aspect of marks or symbols.

In his book, brand failures, Matt Haig[1] says that ‘[b]rands need to acknowledge cultural differences. Very few brands have been able to be transferred into different cultures without changes to their formula.’ He then lists many of the well-known cases where translation errors or naming misfortunes did lasting damage to a brand:

Beavers in Redmond by BIK

  • Clairol’s Mist Stick curling iron launched in Germany: Mist is the German word for manure.
  • The Silver Mist car by Rolls Royce was not a good choice for the German language market for the same reason.
  • Rover connotes a dog; apparently, Land Rover had a problem selling cars; I am not sure that is still true. That connotation would obviously not bug me very much.

These are funny, if you are not the branding manager of the respective product. At Microsoft, product names, but also many feature names went through a process called a globalization review. A target language terminologist, who is a native speaker of the target-market language, reviews the suggested name for undesirable connotations in the target culture.

If the English name of a new feature is not to be retained in the target-language software, a so-called localizability review is performed. During this evaluation, the terminologist checks whether the connotations that the appellation has in English can be retained easily in the target language. They often try to find a designation that is very close to the original. If that is not possible, they will let the requesting product group know.

Here is a nice list of brand naming considerations offered by brand naming company, Brand Periscope, on their website:

  • easy to say and spell
  • memorable
  • extendable, has room for growth
  • positive feeling
  • international; doesn’t have bad meanings in other languages
  • available; from trademark and domain perspective
  • meaning, has relevance to your business

Sounds simple, but this terminology task is something that is forgotten very often. Product developers might have very little exposure to other cultures and/or languages and don’t think to include terminology or linguistic tasks or checks in their development process. When translators, localizers and terminologists point out a faux-pas, it often is either not taken seriously or it comes too late.

1. Haig, M., brand Failures: The Truth About the 100 Biggest Branding Mistakes of All Times. 2003, London: Kogan Page Limited. 309.

Posted in Branding, Coining terms | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Denglisch, Franglais, Spanglish, Swenglist and the like—Guest post by Ivan Kanič

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on November 19, 2010

It is a pleasure to have fellow blogger, Ivan Kanič, share some of his insights into language issues. As his website and his profile on LinkedIn reveal, Ivan has been interested in terminology topics, especially library terminology, for a long time. He talks about it on his own blog site,, which is in Slovene. You can check out the content through a convenient machine translation option, though. Thank you, Ivan.

Microsoft ClipArtThroughout the history, any language has always incorporated foreign words and phrases, to paraphrase Darwin, this was the development and "origin of languages by natural selection". These days, most new words are English, predominantly American English to be precise. All historical attempts to "purify" a particular language proved largely unsuccessful, and many people, including linguists, doubt seriously that such efforts would fare any better today. English has already invaded the languages of Molière, Cervantes and Goethe, dominating above all the fields of technology and business, and spreading widely with the young generations and their jargon. Denglisch, Franglais, Spanglish, Swenglist, Slogleščina and the like were born, a natural linguistic blend of two languages bringing together their morphological, syntactical and phonetic peculiarities in one sentence, often in a single word as well. It occurs mostly in sports, computing, and business where the domestic language, for some reason or the other, lacks words for some concepts, like the word "serve" in tennis, or the domestic word is less well known, e.g. "stock options". It also occurs when a word is to be "modernized", shortened or otherwise updated, like "outsourcing" in business, where people go to the "office", attend "meetings", work in "teams", participate in "workshops" and consider "stock markets" in a number of languages. In Slovene, for example, the situation is even more complex because it is a highly inflected language (a single verb, noun, adjective has a vast number of different endings as a rule) and has an almost "phonetic" writing, so we may encounter doublets like tagirati / tegirati (to tag), tagiranje / tegiranje and the shorter version taganje / teganje (tagging) or verbs like surfati, torrentati (mind the double r, which is not a Slovene feature), printati, downloadati (w is not Slovene), keširanje (I am sure you can understand them, I should help you perhaps with the last one – caching).

Another vast field of invasion is the colloquial language and the jargon of the street, international examples would be cool, kids, trendy, sexy, wellness, in Slovene language ful(l) + adjective makes the superlative, or sich relaxen, ich habe gejobbt, wir shoppen etc. in German, or French sentences like: Je vais driver downtown. Je suis tired. Je ne care pas. J’agree. Not to forget that naming a mobile phone a "handy" is an absolute invention, made up by Germans and has never been printed in an English dictionary.

Unlike the French, who almost religiously guard against the invasion of foreign (read English, and forget for a moment that French had fed it in the history immensely) words, many other languages have embraced Anglo terms and phrases with almost careless abandon in recent years. For example hybrids such as surfen, downloaden, updaten, emailen, chatten are frequent even in German technical language. Opposed is the French "stubbornness" to fight the Franglais formally in most facets of life, thus it is one of the rare languages (if not the only) not to have "digit" and all the derivatives (numérique, numérisation, numéroter instead) and "logiciel" is a fine example, too.

At the moment I would stick to the technical or semi-technical language only, not the jargon. I would ask the opinion, experience and expertise of the readers in this respect. How do you feel and deal with it in your particular language(s) and subject field(s), being terminologists?

Posted in Coining terms | Tagged: , , , , | 5 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 »

You say Aaaazure, I say Azuuuure…

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on October 7, 2010

Two years after the then new cloud-computing technology by Microsoft was named Windows Azure, Microsoft employees and partners are still wondering how to pronounce the name. Is that a good thing for product branding? Probably not.Products from Geberit

Naming is a big part of terminology management. In her presentation for the last DTT symposium, Beate Früh, language service manager at Geberit International AG, a European producer of sanitary technology, described very well how she and her team support engineers in finding the right names, terms or labels for new products or parts (for examples see the adjacent image or the slide deck in German). One of the keys: The team comes in early in the process to help engineers find the best possible terms.

What are best possible terms or appellations? Obviously, each language has its own rules on term formation, as discussed in What I like about ISO 704. But here are the main criteria as well as a checklist that good terminology should meet, again courtesy of ISO 704:

  • Transparency: Can the reader understand what the concept is about by looking at the term?
  • Consistency: Is the new term or appellation consistent with the naming in the subject field? Or does it introduce new aspects at least very deliberately or only when necessary?
  • Appropriateness: Are the connotations evoked by the designation intentional? And do they follow “established patterns of meaning within the language community?”
  • Linguistic economy: Is the term or appellation as short as possible, so as to avoid arbitrary abbreviations by users?
  • Derivability and compoundability: Is it easy to form other terms, e.g. compounds, with the new term?
  • Linguistic correctness: Does the new designation conform to morphological, morphosyntactic, and phonological norms of the language?
  • Preference for native language: Is the new term or appellation borrowed from another language? Or could it be replaced by a native-language designation?

Why would it take a terminologist to name things correctly? In the software industry, we used to say that programmers became programmers because they wanted to deal with 0s and 1s, not with words and terms. Similarly, product engineers are probably better with designing, developing, or testing devices rather than naming them. What’s more, they don’t necessarily think about what happens downstream, let alone set up entries in a terminology database.

Participants of the Life Science Roundtable at LocWorld yesterday in Seattle illustrated the necessity to deliberately choose terms and appellations early in the process, document them as well as their target-language equivalents and then use them consistently: After a device has gone through the regulatory process, even linguistic changes are extremely difficult, if not impossible to make. Tough luck then if a name doesn’t work very well in one or more of the other 25 target markets.

At Microsoft, most product names are run through a process called a globalization review. Marketing experts work with native-language terminologists on evaluating whether the above criteria are met. Some names obviously don’t get submitted. So, Aaaazure, Azzzzure…let’s call the whole thing off? No. But since I am now married to an “Azure evangelist”, I hope that the concept behind the appellation is really solid and makes up for the trouble we have with its pronunciation.

Posted in Advanced terminology topics, Branding, Coining terms, Events, Interesting terms, Terminology methods, Terminology principles, Theory | Tagged: | 4 Comments »

What I like about ISO 704

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on August 5, 2010

The body of ISO 704 “Terminology work—Principles and methods” lists a bunch of important information for terminology work. But what stuck in my mind is actually the annexes, most of all Annex B.

In the current version 704:2009, Annex B is devoted to term-formation methods. In other words, it gives us the most important methods that we have available when creating new terms or appellations in English. It also notes what might be obvious to us, i.e. that these methods differ from language to language. For German, for example, we now have the new Terminologiearbeit – Best Practices which the German terminology association, DTT, published recently and which is more systematic about this topic than a standard might be.

Comprehensiveness need not be the goal of 704; awareness of these methods is more important. If half the content publishers, PMs, branding or marketing folks that I worked with in the IT world had read those five short pages, it would have done a world of good. Instead, I have heard colleagues mocking terminologists who, when coining new terms, pull out the Duden (the main German-German dictionary, similar to The Webster’s or Le Petit Robert) to apply one of these methods. She who laughs last, laughs best, though: New terms and appellations that are well-motivated—either rooted in existing language or deliberately different—last. Quickly invented garbage causes misunderstandings and costs money.

Annex B doesn’t claim to be comprehensive, but it lists the most important methods that can be used in term formation. Here are the three main methods and some examples:Cairn from a recent hike in the Cascades, Barbara Inge Karsch

  • The first one is the creation of completely new lexical entities (terms or appellations), also known as neoterms. One way of creating a neoterm is through compounding, where a new designation is formed of two or more elements, for example cloud computing. 
  • Two methods that fall into the category of using existing forms are terminologization (see also How do I identify a term—terminologization) and transdisciplinary borrowing. An example of terminologization is cloud, where the everyday word cloud took on a very specific meaning in the context of computing, while the name of the computer virus Trojan horse was obviously borrowed from Greek mythology.
  • Translingual borrowing results in new terms and appellations that originate in another language. English climbing language, for example, is full of direct loans from a variety of other languages; just think of bergschrund, cairn or .

The above are just a few examples to give you an impression of what could be learned by reading Annex B. Incidentally, these are methods. They need to be applied correctly, not randomly. I can already hear it, “but I used transdisciplinary borrowing to come up with this [junk]”. No. Even if your orthopedist uses minimally-invasive arthroscopic surgery to fix your knee, you want him to be sure that you actually need surgery, right? If you need to coin English terms or appellations on a regular basis, Annex B of ISO 704 is worth your while. I also like Annex C. More about that some other time.

Posted in Coining terms, Content publisher, Interesting terms, Terminologist, Terminology methods | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Use and Misuse of Latin

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 8, 2010

Latin can be incredibly helpful in finding the correct target term for plants or animals. And it can be a nightmare for us terminologists, when people use it just because it sounds hip.Green bottle fly (Lucilia ceasar) by Ute Karsch

Experts in the field of biology, botany, zoology, etc., have the luxury of using Latin as their ‘universal translator,’ as a horticulturalist put it so aptly in the San Jose Mercury News. The following example shows how we in translation benefit from it: A translator working on a German text about, say, a Kaisergoldfliege, first needs to find the Latin equivalent. An online search will reveal that the Latin name is Lucilia ceasar, according to Linneus (who Oeser and Picht justly call the founder of terminology research in Hoffmann’s Fachsprachen – Languages for Special Purposes). It takes another online search to see that it is referred to as green bottle fly in English. A picture certainly helps to ascertain that it is the same animal.

This is the method that we planned to apply a few years ago, when the team responsible for the Microsoft game franchise Zoo Tycoon 2 approached the terminology team for help. Unfortunately, the project never came through. But we would have set up an entry for the common name and one for the scientific name and added a picture. That would have greatly enabled the target terminologists to find the correct equivalents in their language.

Oak spider (Aculapeira ceropegia) by Ute KarschLatin is not so helpful when it is used incorrectly to form new terms, and yet that is fairly common. A Microsoft team was looking to name a reporting tool that detects something and came up with the term “detectoid.” Anyone who went through five years of Latin (albeit grudgingly) and through a course on medical terminology (more happily) like myself will recognize -oid as the suffix for “resembling” or “like.” But the tool didn’t “resemble” anything; it just did detect. Anyone who encountered the term without explanation and who was familiar with the meaning of –oid, would have been distracted. Upon further research, I also found the following argument against it: The suffix is used in hacker jargon (see this wonderful entry in Foldoc). After that it was easy to argue against “detectoid”—no incorrect application of existing meaning, and no jargon, least of all hacker jargon!

Latin is a good tool for terminologists in many fields. Terminologists in scientific disciplines or our colleagues in medical informatics and ontology rely on its clarity all the time. If used incorrectly, it can lead to unclear source terminology and potentially even worse target terms. On that note—absit iniuria verbis, or “let injury be absent from (these) words.”

Posted in Coining terms, Interesting terms, Researching terms | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »


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