Re: Terminology and you

Subject: Re: Terminology and you
From: Ken d'Albenas <kendal -at- AUTOTROL -dot- CUC -dot- AB -dot- CA>
Date: Fri, 21 May 1993 11:44:49 MDT

Len Olszewski <saslpo -at- UNX -dot- SAS -dot- COM> writes

> Here's an issue that we are dealing where I am, and I'm curious who
> among you faces the same problems.

> Do the terms that your engineers or developers use to describe
> phenomena, components, products or processes seem to be proliferating at
> your job at an increasing rate?

Not too bad here.

> Further, do you find that poor
> terminology decisions at the research or development end of the business
> torture *you* when it comes time to provide documentation?


> Do words
> used imprecisely and interchangably by your R&D folks come back to bite
> you, peppering your doc with ambiguity that increasingly seems to be out
> of your control? (I hope not, but suspect the contrary.)

YES!! But not just R&D people. How about tech writers? Check your
dictionaries for the meanings of the following words. Even Webster's,
that horrid revisionist, hadn't capitulated and accepted the common
misuse, last time I looked:

- COMPRISE: synonym for "include;" NOT a synonym for "compose."
("Comprised of" is wrong.)
- REFERENCE (vt): NOT a synonym for "refer to."
(When you reference a paper, it means you put references
in it, not that you made reference to it. Actually,
some reputable dictionaries don't even acknowledge that
"reference" is a verb at all.)
- PHENOMENA: plural of "phenomenon," NOT a singular form.
- CRITERIA: plural of "criterion," NOT a singular form.

I've found that a little humour goes a long way. Put a large sign on
your wall or door quoting from the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland:
(forgive me, Lewis Carroll fans, if I've got the wrong character
or have slightly misquoted him):

People who try to invent new words, or new meanings for old words,
tend to laugh even as they see themselves in that quote.

> I wonder if others on this list have a terminology story to tell. This
> is a pet concern of mine, and I'd be fascinated by any and all stories
> listmembers would care to contribute. Object orientation and GUI's have
> provided many thorny issues for us, terminologically speaking. What
> about you?

A recent example: a filtering parameter they called a "tolerance
value" was 180 degrees opposite to what you and I would mean by the
term. I went to the developers, but some of them were perfectly happy
with it. After considerable wrestling with this
pretzel-logic software, I found myself writing 2 1/2 pages of blather,
plus pictures with circles and arrows. Unacceptable.

So I started consulting with everyone I could think of. Created a
positive atmosphere by opening the conversations with, "You're a pretty
articulate person; I wonder if you can help me with a thorny problem of

I gave it a day to bear fruit in their heads; meanwhile, I worked on
other things. A day later, one engineer came up with "threshold value." Everyt
pages to a single diagram.

I hope subscribers to this list will take Len up on his invitation to
share horror stories here.


Ken d'Albenas
(Alberta Chapter) | If I can't run into at least one |
(-:: | mental block per month, I must not |
kendal -at- autotrol -dot- cuc -dot- ab -dot- ca | be trying hard enough. |


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