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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How do I identify a term—confusability

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 25, 2010

Let’s continue in our series of designators (remember, these are terms, appellations and symbols) to include in a terminology database. Today, we will focus on the question: Can this designator be confused with another? More specifically, is there a homograph that stands for a different concept?

Homographs—words that have the same spelling, but differ from one another in meaning, origin, and sometimes pronunciation—are probably the most frequent source of confusion. While we try not to use one term for multiple things, it cannot always be avoided; language is alive, meaning evolves, and even with the best prescriptive terminology management system, you might encounter homographs. good example is the term port. Port has many meanings as a word in general language and as a term in special languages. In the IT world, it can refer to at least a physical piece of hardware and a logical piece of software.

Theoretically, when there is the risk of “confusability,” the technical writer should be very specific, for instance, by using physical port or hardware port or even more specifically keyboard port. But even if the writer is precise in the first occurrence of the concept in the text, s/he may use the more generic or abbreviated form port in subsequent parts of the text or on the user interface. Because we never know what shows up in the translation environment first, though, it is good to alert a localizer to the fact that there are multiple meanings behind the term and include it in the terminology database.

So, if the answer to the question “is there a risk of confusability?” is yes, add the term and its homograph to the terminology database. While users of the database still need to identify the meaning in their context, at least they are alerted to the fact that there are two or more possible meanings.

Tomorrow, we will discuss selecting terms based on their degree of specialization.


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