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 ‘Interesting 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 »

A terminologist in bear country

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on September 27, 2011

For the last several weeks, I have been working on terminology for the nicely regulated aviation industry where well-defined terminology is prevalent. It was perfect timing to learn about training, maintenance, and safety concepts in this industry, since in the midst of the assignment, I climbed into a floatplane (The Otter) and flew to Katmai National Park for four fascinating days.

Valley of Ten Thousand SmokesThis park, located in the southwestern corner of Alaska, was founded following a volcanic eruption in 1912. The explosion of Novarupta was the largest volcanic event of the 20 century, and ashes could be found as far away as Africa. When researchers around Robert Griggs ventured back into the area, they found what they thought were small sources of fire still smoldering and dubbed the place ‘Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.’ Years later upon closer investigation, the “smoke” turned out to come from the Ukak River that had gotten buried underneath the lava. Instead of particles produced by combustion, water vapor was rising from the lava fields. The misnomer of the valley stuck, though, but outside of the proper noun, “smoke” has since been put in quotes on most boards and documents.

Inaccurate terminology in historic names is common. In fact, misleading terms could be considered an indication of progress in a subject field and incorrect names of landmarks even add to the places. I am glad, though, that terminology at the other attraction of the Park is being handled extremely carefully these days. I am referring to the Brooks River and its resident bear population.

From a safe platform, these large mammals can be observed catching fish in four distinct ways: Snorkeling which is the most effective and most popular technique; younger bears often engage in what is called the “dash-and-grab” technique of running in shallower water and snatching fish with the paw. If they are not successful and hunger really strikes, specialists switch to technique number three, stealing. The least popular, but most interesting to watch, is diving: After the bear head disappears in the green water of Naknek Lake, a pair of leathery feet emerges. Seconds later, the lucky diver pops back up with a red sockeye salmon in his jaw.

Map of Brooks CampWhere bears and people live close together, rangers don’t have an easy task. People are to stay at least 50 yards from the bears, and even if you have the best intentions, you constantly need to be on your toes, in more than one sense of the word.

From 8 AM to 8 PM, rangers are stationed at three strategic places, roughly where you see the blue crosses on the adjacent map. It was highly interesting to listen to them inform each other about bear movement via two-way radio. One ranger was more precise and efficient in his or her communication than the next. And they all referred to places the same way: For example, the lowest cross is close to “the platform;” the next cross up was a place called “corner.” The corner and the platform were connected via a small floating bridge (“the bridge”). And to the East of the corner was a little promontory referred to as “the point.” Rangers described pathways of bears very clearly, so that each ranger always knew when to move people away from a spot or when the bridge could be approached, even though the terrain was covered by forest.Bear on the “corner”

While names of most landmarks had emerged over the years, returning rangers drew up a map to define important places for newcomers. Naming was logical and communication was adjusted seamlessly to recipient (fellow ranger or guest) and method (radio or face-to-face). While this might seem an obvious behavior, it is one that clearly contributes to the safety of the environment. Besides these professional observations, my father and I had an incredible time at Katmai National Park.

Posted in Events, Interesting terms | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

A short post about posting

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on March 29, 2011

Here is an article about 7 Mistakes of Social Media Wimps that I just received through Jeffrey Gitomer’s weekly marketing letter. Gitomer is one of the sales gurus in the US, who was recommended by a member of my advisory board. Author Sally Hogshead’s blog is called Hog Blog—how is that for a well-motivated name?

Posted in Interesting terms | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »


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 »

More on good terms

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on March 8, 2011

I have been traveling quite a bit in the last few weeks and while that doesn’t leave a whole lot of time to write, it allows me to watch out for well-motivated and poorly-motivated terms.

Augenschlitzhaus by BIKHere is one that several German terminologists approved of the other day at a meeting in Styria. The house in the picture on the left was designed by architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser and is called Augenschlitzhaus (literally translated: “eye slit house”). The picture on the right shows the model and several of the houses, which are built into the earth. One look at the house and we understood why they were called Augenschlitzhaus.Model of Augenschlitzhaus by BIK

I also saw a good example of what I would consider a poorly-motivated term. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture. But you are probably all familiar with candles that have a fragrance, some are obnoxious, some are pleasant. They are referred to as fragranced candles. And then industry invented something called defragranced candle. When you look at the term it makes you think that a candle was produced, fragrance was added in the process and then removed again. I am not an expert in candle making, but that is the image I got when I read the term. It distracted me enough that I didn’t buy the candle.

Can you think of terms that worked really well or didn’t work? Feel free to share them.

Posted in Interesting terms | Tagged: , | 9 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 »

Terminology: An expert explains

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on January 27, 2011

This is a quick follow-up on last week’s explanation of what terminology is. I found the following short video while researching into terminology management practices in the US automotive industry. I’ll get out of the way and let this fine scientist do the explaining. He does so in only 1:49 min, and I recommend watching it to the end.

If you come away understanding the content, you are a genius. If you don’t get a word, you have just learned why terminology matters in technical communication. And if you got a chuckle out of this, let me know.

Posted in Interesting terms, Terminology 101, Terminology of terminology | Tagged: , | 15 Comments »

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 »

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 »

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