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 ‘Subject matter expert’ Category

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 »

Avoiding doublettes or a report from the ISO meetings in Korea

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 23, 2011

One of the main reasons we have doublettes in our databases is that we often don’t get around to doing proper terminological analysis. I was just witness to and assistant in a prime example of a team doing this analysis at the meetings of ISO TC37.

ISO TC 37 is the technical committee for “Terminology and other language and content resources.” It is the standards body responsible for standards such as ISO 12620 (now retired, as discussed in an earlier posting), 704 (as discussed here) or soon 26162 (already quoted here). This year, the four subcommittees (SCs) and their respective working groups (WGs) met in Seoul, South Korea, from June 12 through 17.

One of these working groups had considerable trouble coming to an agreement on various aspects of a standard. Most of us know how hard it is to get subject matter experts (or language people!) to agree on something. Imagine a multi-cultural group of experts who are tasked with producing an international standard and who have native languages other than English, the language of discussion! The convener, my colleague and a seasoned terminologist, Nelida Chan, recognized that the predicament could be alleviated by some terminology work, more precisely by thorough terminological analysis.

First, she gave a short overview of the basics of terminology work, as outlined in ISO 704 Terminology work – Principles and methods. Then the group agreed on the subject field and listed it on a white board. Any of the concepts up for discussion had to be in reference to this subject field; if the discussion drifted off into general language, the reminder to focus on the subject field was right on the board.

The group knew that they had to define and name three different concepts that they had been struggling with, although lots of research had been done; so we put three boxes on the board as well. We then discussed, agreed on and added the superordinate to each box, which was the same in each case. We also discussed what distinguished each box from the other two. Furthermore, we found examples of the concepts and added what turned out to be subordinates right into the appropriate box. Not until then did we give the concepts names. And now, naming was easy.View from the meeting room onto Olympic National Park in Seoul, by BIK

Step 1 .

Subject field

Step 2 Superordinate Superordinate Superordinate
Step 3 Distinguishing characteristic 1
Distinguishing characteristic 2
Distinguishing characteristic 1
Distinguishing characteristic 2
Distinguishing characteristic 1
Distinguishing characteristic 2
(Step 4) . Subordinate
Step 5 Designator Designator Designator


After this exercise, we had a definition, composed of the superordinate and its distinguishing characteristics as well as terms for the concepts. Not only did the group agree on the terms and their meanings, the data can now also be stored in the ISO terminology database. Without doublettes.

Granted, as terminologists we don’t often have the luxury of having 15 experts in one room for a discussion. But sometimes we do: I remember discussing terms and appellations for new gaming concepts in Windows Vista with marketing folks in a conference room at the Microsoft subsidiary in Munich. Even if we don’t have all experts in shouting distance, we can proceed in a similar fashion and collect the information from virtual teams and other resources in our daily work. It may take a little bit to become fluent in the process, but terminological analysis helps us avoid doublettes and pays off in the long run.

Posted in Events, Researching terms, Standardizing entries, Subject matter expert, Terminologist, Terminology 101, Terminology methods, Terminology principles | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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 »

Who has the last word?

Posted by Barbara Inge Karsch on June 17, 2010

In most cases, terminology research leads to one obvious target terminology solution. But sometimes there are several options and many people are involved. How then do you make a decision? Who is the final authority? When a new target term is coined or a controversial term needs to be changed, stakeholders become extremely passionate about these questions (see also a recent discussion in the LinkedIn Terminology group).

Terminologist as the hubI believe it is simply the wrong approach to this puzzle. Even just asking the question about authority does not help negotiations. Instead, let’s look at the process: The target terminologist does the research, because that is what they are trained and paid for. Research means accessing and evaluating pertinent resources to find the answer to the terminological problem. Resources may be print and online dictionaries, books and technical magazines, websites and terminology portals, the product itself, related products and material, and, yes, subject matter experts (SMEs).

Target terminologists are the hub in the middle of a bunch of experts. Sometimes they turn out to be self-proclaimed experts or people who are simply passionate about their native language. But especially in localization environments, a terminologist is a generalist and must never work in isolation. A good terminology management system (TMS) supports the terminologist by allowing knowledge sharing by others, voting, etc.

After doing the research, after consulting experts, after weighing each term candidate carefully, the answer should be apparent to the terminologist as well as to stakeholders. Here are some of the aspects that must be taken into consideration:

  • Linguistic presentation—is the new term a well-motivated term? Again, the DTT/DIT Best Practice contains a well-structured list of criteria.
  • Budgetary concerns—does changing from an old to a new term completely blow some product group’s budget and will they therefore not go for the new suggestion?
  • Input by end-users—when the term replaces an existing term: do end-users simply not understand the old term or have a strong dislike for it?
  • Sociolinguistic aspects—how rooted is the old term already in common parlance?
  • And finally, in certain environments, political aspects—e.g. are enough stakeholders convinced to make the change so that it will actually be successful?

It goes without saying that in each situation the criteria need to be weighted differently. For Windows Vista, for example, the German term for “to download” was changed from downloaden to herunterladen. The budgetary impact was high due to the high occurrence of the term in Microsoft material. Who had the final authority on that one? Well, a user survey conducted by the German terminologist at CeBIT in Hannover revealed that many users, even techies attending the computer fair, did not like the Anglicism. The German terminologist made the case to product groups, and the change was implemented by mutual agreement.

So, why do I say that the answer “should” be apparent? The most obvious reason is that, just like everyone else, terminologists are human and make mistakes—another good reason to not work in isolation. Apart from that, here are other aspects that I have observed impacting the negotiation process in today’s virtual world:

  • Culture, gender and hierarchy: At J.D. Edwards, some handbooks were translated multiple times into Japanese. Each time a more high-ranking person in the Japanese subsidiary had a complaint, the books or certain portions of them might be retranslated. Similarly, there was “terminology du jour”—terms that changed based on the input of the subsidiary and with little guidance by the female Japanese terminologist. Gender and hierarchy have an impact on terminological decisions in certain cultures.
  • Outsourcing: An external target terminologist isn’t necessarily in the strongest position. Many may not have contact with the local market subsidiary, because there is none or it is not staffed to discuss terminology. The worst case is, though, when the linguist makes a perfectly sound suggestion, but the counter-suggestion from the subsidiary prevails because it came from the client or the perceived expert. Subsidiary PMs may have strong technical knowledge, but that does not mean that they are always completely clear a) about the concept, b) about the impact of a term change, or even c) whether the term works for the end user. It is a terminologist’s job to assess how valuable the input of an expert is.
  • Expertise and experience: Let’s face it—some terminologists don’t deserve to be called terminologists. Terms are small, if not the smallest unit of knowledge, and terminologists need to deal with dozens of them on a daily basis. Experts usually don’t get paid or have no time for terminology work. Therefore, communication better be efficient and fast. It takes tremendous skill to make a concise case and get to a solution smoothly and efficiently.

In my experience, the best designations result from the work of a team of equals who draw on each others’ strength. In many software scenarios, the ultimate SME does not even exist—terminology-management and subject-matter expertise is contributed by different parties to an online centralized terminology database managed by the terminologist for the respective language.

What is your experience—do too many cooks spoil the terminology database? Or does it take a village?

Posted in Negotiation skills, Researching terms, Subject matter expert, Terminologist, Terminology 101, Translator | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

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