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 ‘Branding’ 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 »

How is Superman related to a lawn mower?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on July 3, 2011

Terminology is for translators! Why should I, as a fill-in-the-blank expert, worry about terminology? Oh, but we are in marketing, not in translation! Excuses, excuses. When you wait until your terminology hits the translator, it is too late. Besides the fact, it is not true that folks in the content supply chain don’t deal with terminology management. Most of them just don’t deal with it consciously. Some do it very effectively.

But there are links in that chain who very, very actively deal with terminology. Only three out of 23 car sales people I interviewed at the Canadian International AutoShow in February, for instance, were stumped by the question “what is terminology”. All others had very good definitions, explanations and synonyms handy. What’s more, almost all of them pointed out the effect of terminology choices on their customers. They knew muuuch more about terminology issues than most people in the content supply chain are willing to admit. Some of them were just not that happy with the terminology that came down the pipeline to them!

Terminology is very deliberately used by marketing and branding departments to achieve brand recognition and ultimately to sell. Here is a commercial that uses presumed synonymy to introduce essential concepts of a product and reach potential buyers on different levels:

  • It brings in terms from other subject areas to introduce what could be an unknown technical term: “clipper shavers” vs. “twin blades.”
  • It introduces what must be an impressive technical concept represented by a registered trademark in a non-threatening way: “veggie mow” vs. “Versamow©.”
  • And finally, it uses a designator, which the target audience is emotionally attached to, although it represents a completely unrelated concept: “Kryptonite*” vs. “NeXite©.”

Using presumed synonymy as a technique allows the marketing experts to have a likeable bungler explain what is implied to be a technically excellent product, all with the tag line “Hard to describe, easy to use.”

It is not as over-the-top as the Turbo Encabulator that has my students rolling on the floor even at 9 PM. But it shows how clued into terminology methods some branding folks really are. So, if you are part of the content supply chain and think you have nothing to do with terminology principles and methods, think again. Your competition is using them while you are still denying they exist.

Terminology in a commercial

*For more on Kryptonite see the Wikipedia entry. What I find interesting is that the commercial refers to it, even though it stands for a weakness. The makers of the commercial rely on the association to Superman being so strong, powerful and positive that the target audience completely forgets what Kryptonite stands for.

BIK: Thanks to Ben W. for pointing out a much more logical explanation, which eluded me in the final minutes of writing the above: The direct association with Kryptonite is that with a powerful material. And who wouldn’t want something that is stronger even than Superman.

Posted in Branding, Events, Subject matter expert, Terminology methods | Tagged: , , , | 2 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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

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 »

Guest Blog for SDL

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on August 23, 2010

Tom Smith from SDL and I did an interview-style blog on the SDL blog site. If you are interested in terminology management and branding, among other things, check it out.

Posted in Branding, Terminology 101 | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

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