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Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh
This article provides an overview of what can happen to a term when it transcends the boundaries of expert language and starts to be used by the general public—a process we call de-terminologization. First, we analyze the semantic, grammatical, and pragmatic changes that terms undergo when they start to be used by laypersons. Second, we discuss the reasons why de-terminologization occurs. Third, we examine its lexical impact on general and specialized language. Finally, we discuss the practical implications of de-terminologization for the day-to-day work of a terminographer. Keywords: De-terminologization, semantics, knowledge society, pragmatics
1. Introduction Normally, when one studies terms, it is useful to view them as highly “ﬁxed” entities, marking clearly delineated conceptual spaces within a given domain of expertise. Opitz (1983: 60) has captured the essence of this approach eloquently: Regardless of their origin or method of construction, all terms aim at one common quality: a rigidly ﬁxed obligatory range of meaning. And this is precisely the signiﬁcance of the expression “term”. As terminus, it denotes the end in a line of changes and developments from which it is now safely—if forcibly—removed. What terms represent is the inventory, or nomenclature, of their underlying area of specialised pursuit. As soon as the inventory changes, the terms may have to be reconsidered, but in the meantime nobody is expected to tamper with them.
Terminology Vol. 6(1), 2000. 111–138 © John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh
The “ﬁxed” nature of terms, as they are used in expert discourse, is essential to preserve expert knowledge and to ensure eﬃcient communication of this knowledge (Sager 1994). In this article, however, we shall be concerned not with the ﬁxedness of terms, but rather with the ways in which terminological meaning and usage can “loosen” when a term captures the interest of the general public. In such a situation, a lexical item that was once conﬁned to a ﬁxed meaning within a specialized domain is taken up in general language. We call this process de-terminologization.1 Consider the following examples, taken from Canadian newspapers: (1) Don’t hesitate to use the modern stand-alone pay toilets found on streets throughout the city if nature calls at a seemingly inopportune time. (2) His company essentially consists of two virtual employees and a web site that gets a lot of traﬃc. (3) Yeltsin asked the Duma to give the country’s crucial chief banker’s job to Gerashchenko, a recycled oﬃcial who was ﬁred from an earlier government. (4) But watch the stock market—and Canada’s anorexic dollar, which may come under attack by merciless currency traders. All the words highlighted in these examples are semantically related to terms in various domains—computing for (1) and (2), the environment and medicine for (3) and (4) respectively. Clearly, however, these words have undergone signiﬁcant meaning changes in their migration from terminological to generallanguage usage: 1. Stand-alone in its terminological, computer sense, modiﬁes hardware and software (a stand-alone computer is one that is not connected to a network). In its new general-language uses, stand-alone modiﬁes anything with some kind of independent status (stand-alone banks, stand-alone stories, even stand-alone toilets!). 2. Virtual in its computer senses occurs mainly in the compounds virtual memory (a kind of simulated memory) and virtual reality (a computer-simulated environment). In its general-language uses, virtual has become a buzzword that one ﬁnds in combinations as varied as virtual sex, virtual classroom, virtual travel, virtual currency, etc.2 3. Recycling in the environmental domain refers to a method by which
it may undergo two types of semantic changes. On the one hand. it has come to designate the notion of ‘smallness’ or ‘weakness’ for various types of entities and processes (e. Lexical item will serve as a generic for both. Our discussion will focus more on the latter category. 2. etc. 4. we summarize the lexical impact of de-terminologization on general and specialized language. In Sections 2–4. we conclude by discussing the implications of de-terminologization for the practical work of a terminographer. glass. Anorexia in the medical domain refers to a life-threatening illness. we examine the extralinguistic and linguistic factors that cause and promote this process.) are treated to recover resources for human use. In general language. grammatical and pragmatic changes that may occur during de-terminologization. involving a signiﬁcant dilution of the terminological sense (2. We employ term in its traditional sense of a lexical item as used in a particular domain of expertise.g. In Section 5. we analyze a variety of semantic. having important implications for the grammatical and pragmatic aspects of de-terminologization discussed later. 2. De-terminologization and meaning When a term migrates into general language. and can be applied not only to things. In general language. We use word when referring to general-language usage.2). it has taken on the broader meaning of ‘re-use’.1 Retention of fundamental domain sense In the majority of cases. the essence of the concept perceived by laypersons is similar to that perceived by .An Overview of De-terminologization 113 wasteproducts (paper. an anorexic offence in sports. which is really the heart of this article. On the other hand. but even to people. when a term starts to be used in general language. as in the example above. Most are taken from a corpus of Canadian newspapers. In Section 6.1). semantic changes can be more substantial. In Section 7. All our examples are based on “real” speech and writing. its domain sense) may be retained (2. the essence of the terminological sense (i.e. an anorexic attention span) The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of the phenomenon of determinologization and of its signiﬁcance for terminography.
For a general-language dictionary. however. for example. 3 The layperson’s shallower understanding of specialized lexical items shapes the deﬁnitions attached to them in general-language dictionaries (Béjoint 1988). GIFT. which is poisonous if not cooked properly.114 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh experts. the false morel. namely what the mushroom looks like. avoiding technical terms in the deﬁnition and focussing on elements of particular interest to laypersons. For a terminological dictionary. The latter normally aim at a deﬁnition that describes the concept in less depth than a terminological dictionary would. Shallower meaning. when laypersons refer to the concept. or environmental terms like CFC gases and greenhouse effect. necrotizing fascitis (= ﬂesh-eating disease). This deﬁnition includes many technical terms. For example. and are therefore not fully terminological in the strictest sense of this term. In this article. etc. MRI. of the class Ascomycetes”. the authors propose a deﬁnition based on a biological taxonomy: “An operculate unitucate (macro)fungus of the order Pezizales. . This deﬁnition focusses on the information that is of greatest immediate interest to laypersons. Consider medical terms like HIV. who would more likely associate the concept with etiology. we prefer to call them de-terminologized words in the context of their general-language use: they undergo minor conceptual shifts as they cross the border between specialized and general language. The primary change that occurs involves the depth of the layperson’s understanding of the concept. In other words. The public’s understanding of bulimia as a life-threatening eating disorder. and that it is poisonous. symptomatology. Laypersons. the authors propose “a poisonous mushroom (Gyromitra esculenta) which closely resembles a brown ‘brain’ perched on a white stalk”. lexicologists and lexicographers sometimes refer to such lexical items (even when used in general language) as terms. Kalliokuusi and Varantola (1998. Because the underlying domain sense appears fundamentally unchanged. is much shallower than that of the medical expert. bulimia. and assumes biological domain knowledge. they are still evoking its basic domain sense. tamoxifen. bulimia is understood as a lifethreatening eating disorder by experts and laypersons alike. terms pass into general language because the reality that they designate for experts is also of great interest to a signiﬁcant proportion of the general population. In cases such as these. treatment options. 2000) illustrate the diﬀerences between terminological and general-language dictionaries using the example of a mushroom. then. understand the essence of the concept in much the same way that the experts did.
Sometimes. 2. however. ﬂatline). when laypersons use the word. laypersons (particularly women) tend to associate this chemical with hair colouring. Meaning transformations may manifest themselves in a surprisingly wide variety of ways.2. in the case of peroxide. and with further shifting. stand-alone typically has nothing to do with computers.2 Dilution of original domain sense In this category. this word can be used by laypersons to mean ‘suffering from the life-threatening eating disorder called anorexia’. tend to associate atomic with Hiroshima and atomic bombs. anorexic can also be used colloquially in a more ﬁgurative sense to mean ‘extremely thin’. involving signiﬁcant dilution of the original domain sense. On the one hand. Laypersons. as in anorexic plot and anorexic Canadian dollar. 2. it is not with the intention of designating the basic domain sense of the original term. On the other hand. the layperson’s understanding of a term may be coloured by connotations that were not present in the expert’s original understanding. the de-terminologized word has “loosened” so much that it no longer designates the same concept that the original term did. which in its original terminological sense refers to anything related to atoms. Despite the various changes discussed above. This type of semantic change is discussed next. to mean ‘weak’. Similarly.4 While the ﬁrst use of anorexic falls into the category of words discussed above. Take anorexic. all the de-terminologized words in this category designate the same fundamental concept in general language as their equivalent terms do in specialized discourse.1 Stand-alone In its computing sense. the ﬁgurative uses are stronger cases of de-terminologization. As illustrated below. As well as being more superﬁcial. this adjective normally modiﬁes computer hardware (stand-alone computer. In other words. In its de-terminologized uses.An Overview of De-terminologization 115 Added connotations. almost any concept that has some notion of ‘independent status’ can be qualiﬁed as stand-alone: . however. stand-alone workstation). Let us re-examine our ﬁrst four examples as well as two others (bandwidth. for example. becoming more remote from their original terminological senses. words in this category may undergo another semantic shift. Savory (1967: 45) discusses the example of atomic.
a recycled oﬃcial who was ﬁred from an earlier government. but also many types of creative events or trends (as in (8) and (9)). feel sorry for the family. However. segregated insurance fund. (5) Most of its 23 chapters can be read as stand-alone stories (6) He promised to create a stand-alone new bank that would lend small business some $40 billion by 2004. while in other cases. . (9) Whether you’re a Baby Spice. (3) Yeltsin asked the Duma to give the country’s crucial chief banker’s job to Gerashchenko.2. In its de-terminologized uses. true victims of tragedy. ‘energy’. Recycling people is also a common theme. and ‘time’ in (12)). 2. waste-management uses.116 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh (1) Don’t hesitate to use the modern stand-alone pay toilets found on streets throughout the city if nature calls at a seemingly inopportune time. instead.2 Recycle In its de-terminologized usage. this recycling of ’70s fashion is the thing for posh girls. 2. Saturday Night Fever does work—and that places it a notch or so higher than most stage recyclings of ﬁlm musicals. a Scary Spice or just naturally spicy in your personal style. bandwidth has come to designate various aspects of ‘capacity’ (space. time. Its payroll tax revenue is part of the government’s general revenue stream.2. recycle seems to designate the same general sense of ‘transform’ that is intended in its environmental. (10) Newspaper bandwidth should not be wasted on a careless bunch of adults.3 Bandwidth Bandwidth has terminological senses in the domains of telecommunications and computing. the latter sense derived from the former. as we had already seen in (3). intellect). (8) On its own primitive level. In some cases. a variety of aspects come into play (‘time’ and ‘intellect’ in (11). the objects of recycling can include not only concrete items. (7) The EI [employment insurance] account is not a stand-alone. energy. just one aspect is involved (‘space’ in (10)).
a human resources executive at 3Com. it can be applied more loosely to people who are simply very thin but not suﬀering from anorexia (13). (4) But watch the stock market—and Canada’s anorexic dollar.5 Flatline A medical term stemming from the early eighties.4 Anorexic In its original. medical sense. in the language of techno-speak. and out of time. 2. and means ‘to register no activity on a heart monitor’. it modiﬁes things that are weak. In other cases. meaning at wits’ end. In general language. anorexic means ‘suﬀering from the disorder of anorexia nervosa’. as you might expect.’’’ said Chris Lind. ﬂatline moved into general language in 1990 with the release of a ﬁlm called Flatliners. ‘‘They throw up their hands and say. Ellie Nelson. (14) Remember the Thunderbird? Dead as a Dodo bird. According to the Oxford Dictionary of New Words (1997). or lacking substance in some way. The entry-level anorexic Aspire? Forget about it. (13) Rhythmic gymnastics has been chided as a non-event. performed by anorexic little girls wearing too much makeup. the city’s football team] had an anorexic oﬀence last year. ‘I’m out of bandwidth. 2. Neale-May and Partners. (12) The most common cry for help these days in Silicon Valley comes. [The Thunderbird and Aspire are both cars]. an executive at the public relations agency. It was formed with reference to the ﬂattening of the peaks on the line displayed on a heart monitor. as in (14). which may come under attack by merciless currency traders. such as the anorexic offence in (15).e.2. In the ﬁlm. (16) The plot [of the ﬁlm] is positively anorexic. and the anorexic dollar in (4). a group of medical students (the ﬂatliners) assist .An Overview of De-terminologization 117 (11) ‘‘Instead of asking if we have time to do something or aptitude to handle a project. ﬂatline in its terminological sense is usually intransitive. (15) Hamilton [i. out of capacity.’’’ she explains. [clients] want to know if we have the ‘bandwidth. It may also modify things which are small. the anorexic plot in (16). knows it well because she hears it often from her employees.2.
this feature is lost in other cases (20–21). ﬂatline and its derivatives have undergone signiﬁcant meaning shifts. where ﬂatline means ‘to come to an end’. the de-terminologized usage of virtual is often still closely tied to the domain of computing. then would be restarted a few seconds later. and the increasing age of that population. even the warmest interiors look dark and foreign. (21) Beautifully shot by veteran cinematographer Allen Daviau. denoting things that are ‘ﬂat’.e.2.6 Virtual In computing. as the once-dominant wakeup program continued to be clobbered by NBC’s Today. A student’s heart would be stopped (i.118 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh each other in having near-death experiences. More surprisingly. some uses highlight the feature of ‘death’ (though in a metaphorical way). Unlike stand-alone. as in (20) and (21). It is clearly the latter concept. other uses are extremely distant from the original sense. as in (17). staying steady at about one million people. however. principally virtual memory and virtual reality.virtual is used in a number of terminological compounds. virtual reality requires users to wear specialized input/output devices (head-mounted display. as in (18) and (19). which was not part of the original meaning of . Virtual reality is a technology that “permits people to behave as if they were somewhere they are not” (Laurel 1995: 90). Interestingly. some uses focus on the feature of ‘ﬂattening’. In its de-terminologized usage. sensor-laden gloves) that allow them to “experience” a simulated world in an interactive way. that launched virtual on its path of de-terminologization. Also predictably. In its strictest terminological sense. without a computer screen. (18) The two biggest trends are the ﬂatline for the province’s population ﬁgures. generating the tension in what is otherwise a ﬂatliner of a ﬁlm. it has acquired a particularly strong link to the Internet. While some of the semantic actants are things that could be graphed (17–19). (20) ‘‘Wooden’’ is too lively to describe the ﬂat-liner delivery of the actors. ‘lacking in sparkle’. (17) ABC’s Good Morning America seemed ever closer to ﬂatlining. he/she would ﬂatline). (19) College enrolment has fallen by 45 per cent and university enrolment has ﬂatlined. ‘dull’. 2. Predictably.
virtual travel (24) virtual corporation. In contrast. we have argued that the de-terminologized uses of virtual typically involve various combinations of three semantic features: [+internet].An Overview of De-terminologization 119 virtual reality. stand-alone modiﬁed any computer that was independent of a more powerful computer. still retains a strong meaning element of ‘computers’ in almost all uses. virtual corporation and virtual employee involve all three features ([+dynamic] coming into the meaning because virtual corporations are set up for one limited-time business opportunity). they do not intend to designate the original domain sense. while standalone typically does not. a particularly strong feature combination for virtual.7 Summary This category of de-terminologized words is semantically interesting for several reasons. This does not always mean. In a detailed analysis of virtual presented elsewhere (Meyer. In its terminological sense. they are no longer referring to a computing or a medical concept. virtual classroom. when people speak of HIV. Consider the following examples: (22) virtual application (23) virtual sex. [+simulated co-presence] (participants linked by computer instead of physically). virtual employee The three semantic features involved in the de-terminologized uses of virtual may be “activated” alone or in combination: virtual application (a computer application that runs on the Internet) involves only the [+internet] features. and Varantola 1997). it may be more or less present depending on the lexical item: virtual. they are still referring to a medical concept. First. however.2. when laypersons use words in this category. and [+dynamic] (created for speciﬁc purpose and for limited time). 2. virtual classroom and virtual travel all involve [+internet] and [+simulated co-presence]. when they use bandwidth or anorexic in the examples above. but rather a greatly diluted form of it. For example. virtual sex. it is simply a matter of an extension of the original sense. that the originating domain “disappears” completely from the de-terminologized meaning. respectively. In some cases. Second. The determinologized sense has been diluted to mean simply ‘independent from’. normally involving a broadening of possible semantic actants. with . there appears to be a wide variety of ways in which the original terminological meaning “dilutes”. Mackintosh. Rather. for example. for example.
while others do not. it can refer to transforming almost anything. we noted a cluster of uses centered around a metaphorical sense of ‘death’ (ﬂatlining TV show) and another centered around the notion of ‘ﬂattening’ (ﬂatlining population ﬁgures).1). we ﬁnd that the extension of the basic terminological meaning can be seen as a continuum of extensions.g. In other cases. Recently. With ﬂatline. some closer to the original meaning. Finally. the objects of downloading are overwhelmingly negative . download has extended this meaning to ‘transferring responsibilities from a higher to a lower level’. In this new sense.e. With virtual. Some uses still involve potential ‘graphability’. elements of the original meaning are “lost”). for example. emotional. a server) to a small computer. ‘simulated co-presence’ and ‘dynamic’. A further dilution occurs from ‘thinness’ to ‘smallness’ (anorexic cars). we noted uses centered around the notions of ‘Internet’. anorexic plot). it should be noted that sometimes. Recycle. while dilution is clearly the overwhelming dynamic here (i. for example. diluted its original meaning from ‘thinness due to a medical condition’ to simply ‘thinness’ (anorexic gymnasts). not just waste material. Finally.g. download in its terminological sense means ‘to transfer data from a larger computer (e. For example. As noted also for the previously described category of words (see Section 2. In its de-terminologized sense. in some cases it appears that certain “clusters” of de-terminologized meanings appear. and even clusters activating certain combinations of these. which can also be expressed as ‘weakness’ or ‘lack of substance’ (anorexic dollar. bandwidth in its computing sense refers to the ‘capacity’ of a communications channel. e. each cluster based on one semantic feature of the terminological sense. via the Internet’. it can refer to other types of capacity. in its environmental sense. Finally. refers to ‘transforming waste material into something else’. Yet another dilution occurs from ‘physical smallness’ to ‘non-physical smallness’. Anorexic. as in: (25) The Liberal health critic is accusing the government of downloading health-care costs to the public. intellectual. determinologization involves the addition of a meaning element not present in the original terminological sense. whereas in its de-terminologized sense. this category of words may assume connotations that were not associated with the original term.120 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh the actant no longer restricted to a computer. and some further away.
5.2 Verbs Flatline.2.An Overview of De-terminologization 121 (costs. the Governor of the Bank of Canada. is a good example of a verb that can undergo many grammatical shifts upon de-terminologizing. In its de-terminologized usage ﬂatline may be used transitively: .e. This negative connotation is not present in the terminological sense. Changes involving nouns. 3. adjectives/adverbs. Verbal usage was already part of bookmark’s terminological sense (one bookmarks web sites). remembering the heft of history in his ﬁngers. deriving from its Internet sense: (26) The East Coast Music awards kind of bookmarks our career so far. Flatline in the medical domain was used primarily as an intransitive verb. De-terminologization and grammar When de-terminologization is of the latter type—i. will testify before the House of Commons Finance Committee. bookmarking the sights and sounds of one of the great closing chapters in sports. and prepositions are discussed below. responsibilities). signiﬁcant dilution of originating domain sense—it may be accompanied by grammatical changes of various types. as in “the patient ﬂatlined twice during surgery”. 3. The de-terminologized examples above are nevertheless striking because bookmark’s original general-language sense was not expressed verbally. Consider the following examples of bookmark.1 Nouns De-terminologized nouns are sometimes used verbally. verbs. (27) He should be savouring the last few warm breezes of summer right about now. discussed in Section 2. 3. (28) And some other events to bookmark this week: Tomorrow Gordon Thiessen.
when ﬂatline is used in the extended sense of ‘dull’: (32) In take after take. she delivers the line with exactly the same wooden. with the nominal use of ﬂatline in compound constructions.3 Adjectives and Adverbs Virtual/virtually. ﬂatline tonality. and with the derivative form ﬂatliner: (30) To those who dismiss embalmers and undertakers as ghoulish ﬂatline merchants. Predicative use of virtual becomes possible with its de-terminologized form. (31) Beautifully shot by veteran cinematographer Allen Daviau. mouthing the four words with equally emphasized inﬂection. but not *the dictator was virtual. (33) Somebody didn’t take out the recycling. as with recycling in (33). a virtual dictator. Internet. virtually took the same sentence position as almost. verb-to-adjective shifts can be observed. as in he virtually . 3.g. When the meaning of a verb shifts so that a process becomes an entity. In its original general-language uses. Finally.] Virtual reality has also given birth to a new sense of the adverb virtually. [travels are done via the Internet] (35) The meeting will have to be virtual. generating the tension in what is otherwise a ﬂatliner of a ﬁlm. as in to travel virtually and to interact virtually.122 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh (29) With these school board changes. even the warmest interiors look dark and foreign. virtual is an attributive adjective. used in the sense of ‘the items to be recycled. [the participants will not be physically co-present. we may see shifts from gerundial to regular noun use. etc. Danziger makes swift response. e. Verb-to-noun shifts have occurred as well. co-presence will be simulated using videoconferencing. contained in a designated recycling box’. In its original general-language usage. we can ﬂatline the assimilation process and probably see more people being able to operate in both languages. as in: (34) My travels are virtual these days.
one typically downloads data from a larger computer (for example. virtually follows the verb. and adopt the corresponding . for example. general-language sense. their solutions for the most part seem to be downloading on to workers. (40) Municipal leaders say their relationship with the province is improving after several years of provincial cost-cutting and downloading on the municipalities. as in megalith and megaphone. download may be followed by to as in (39). mega was used as an attributive preﬁx. mega can be used as a predicative adjective (36. remains a good place for working British Columbians. and even as an adverb (38): (36) Rosemary Conley’s Shape Up for Summer will be mega too. Consider download. (37) Why not call our fantastic computer game review line or our cheat and tips computer line—it’s totally mega!! (38) The two top men at the company—John and David. In its original. 37). It is her ﬁrst one not published in January. On the other hand. it is not necessarily accompanied by the same preposition required by its terminological sense.4 Prepositions When a lexical item de-terminologizes. it is possible that the writer simply is not aware of the preposition used for the terminological sense. In its de-terminologized sense of ‘transferring responsibilities from a higher to a lower level’ (see Section 2. In its new de-terminologized uses. for instance). Mega.C. (41) Rather than looking for the resolve needed to ensure B. and the ﬁrst to deal speciﬁcally with the bikini in mind.7). On the one hand. In its computer uses. who are great grandsons of the founder—are mega rich. 3. Prepositional shifts such as these may be motivated by one or both of two factors. a web server) to a smaller computer (a personal computer.2.An Overview of De-terminologization 123 disappeared. the writer may be inﬂuenced by a similar general-language sense. In its de-terminologized uses. but it is also used with on or on to: (39) The Liberal health critic is accusing the government of downloading health-care costs to the public.
1 Simpliﬁcation of signiﬁer Abbreviation.oftenwiththeintentionofproducing a humorous eﬀect. not to someone) 4. while in other cases. As an illustration. usage borders on slang. for example. Other examples include bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease). public interest immunity certiﬁcate (gag order) and Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). those that undergo a signiﬁcant dilution of the original domain sense (see Section 2. 4. an abbreviation already existed for the terminological form. and in playful. one might speculate that on and on to are being used in analogy with ofﬂoad or unload (one oﬄoads on someone. One gets the feeling that language users like to test just how far a meaning can be stretched for eﬀect. This pragmatic shift can be seen in the simpliﬁcation of signiﬁers on the one hand. De-terminologized items are often used in an abbreviated form. less “scientiﬁc” sounding equivalent. Examples include facsimile (fax).2)—are used more colloquially than they are in specialized discourse.5 Alternate lexical item. which may be used in place of the original term. De-terminologization and pragmatics Many de-terminologized lexical items—in particular. amniocentesis (amnio).2 Playful and Humorous Usage De-terminologized items that undergo a signiﬁcant dilution of their domain sensesmaybeusedplayfullyandcreatively. for example. In the case of downloading.124 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh preposition. This phenomenon is widespread in medicine and botany. In some cases. In some cases. meg (megabyte). Consider the following examples: (42) When do you think you’ll be upgrading my allowance? [asked by a pre-teen of his parent] . Some terms have a synonymous. detoxiﬁcation (detox). the abbreviation is a consequence of its popularized use. schizophrenic (schizo) and inﬂuenza (ﬂu). necrotizing fascitis is now referred to by the media as ﬂesh-eating disease. humorous usage on the other hand. 4.
de-terminologized one. This is the case. .” the oppositional answer to multi-tasking. Other examples of word-play are classic cases of puns: (50) Horticultural producers will oﬀer their wares today at the markets. not a minute too soon for winter-weary Montrealers itching to reboot their gardens. for example. [spring gardening requires boots] Finally.An Overview of De-terminologization (43) Yours virtually. [motto of an advocacy group for organ transplants] (45) Is reading in the bathroom considered multi-tasking? 125 (46) The [cosmetic] procedure is fast. of virtual.” (52) It’s hard to see Adams [creator of Dilbert. I call it homerexia—never quite perfect enough. (47) These are the places where we wait endlessly for a bartender to serve us what turns out to be an anorexic martini.” she says. word-play may be based on lexical imitation. The following examples illustrate lexical imitation of anorexia and multi-tasking: (51) “People get obsessed about their home. wood is still the real thing in a world that gets more virtual all the time. knife-free. (49) One of my actual sons. “It’s almost like anorexia. which is often used in contexts that play on virtual reality: (48) There’s something deeply rooted in the Canadian character that dictates a deck must be made of wood. the cartoon series] as a corporate sellout when he comes up with such inspired concepts as “multishirking. Some cases of word-play involve allusions to the originating terminological senses. who has doubled as a virtual son ever since he discovered computers. about its appearance. involving new items that are created in analogy with a trendy. [found at the end of an email message] (44) Recycle Yourself. and won’t reverse-engineer your face into some eerily young version of yourself. Become A Donor.
While de-terminologization clearly has a long history. they have become aware of a sharp increase in the number of terms that interest the users of their dictionaries. but it is still very considerable. is now much more keenly alive to the eﬀects which scientiﬁc advances may have on their individual lives. the percentage is smaller. In the words of Landau (1974: 241): At a conservative estimate. originally used only by a community of specialists. 5. however. The public. to be heard on the radio and seen on television. in college and desk-sized dictionaries. We live in a world where . over 40 percent of the entries in an unabridged dictionary are for such terms. in that a larger proportion of them are familiar outside the laboratory. When lexical items de-terminologize. The handling of terminological senses in general-language dictionaries was traditionally a peripheral concern for lexicographers. In the words of Savory (1967: 63): The new words that have arisen since the beginning of the twentieth century provide something of a contrast with those of its predecessor. along with labels to indicate the originating domains. perhaps 25–35. In recent years.126 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh 5. are later taken up by a broader language community. Why does de-terminologization occur? The migration of terms into general language is by no means a new phenomenon: it is well known that some terms. general-language dictionaries may add them as new terminological senses in their dictionaries.1 Emergence of the knowledge society The recent increase in de-terminologization can best be explained by fundamental changes occurring in modern society. which cared little for the fundamental principles of physics or botany or any other science as such. many researchers have noted that it has increased in the twentieth century. Any discovery that is not too remotely academic is likely to provoke interest and discussion. Why does de-terminologization occur? And why does it appear to be on the increase? These questions are addressed below. with a genuine attempt to grasp and to use the new terms in which the novelties are described.
Peter Drucker. and healthcare are also of great interest to the general public.3 Nature of lexical items Is it possible that certain lexical items. centigrade. this implies that increasing numbers of terms migrate into general language. The “For Dummies” series is just one example of the many ways in which specialized knowledge is percolating into ever more aspects of our everyday lives. After the Chernobyl disaster. because of their nature. environmental studies. Lexical items such as Celsius. almost any event that obtains extensive media coverage may trigger de-terminologization. 5. ﬂatline moved into general language after the word appeared in the title of a popular ﬁlm. it appears that the public’s appetite for domain knowledge of all kinds is voracious: witness. are more likely to become popular than others? Items which are simple (and “user-friendly” in . As we already noted earlier. people need to be aware of scientiﬁc and technical developments if they are to be productive “knowledge workers”.2 Speciﬁc extra-linguistic events Sometimes de-terminologization can be triggered by a speciﬁc extra-linguistic event. genetics. etc.An Overview of De-terminologization 127 specialized knowledge has replaced manual labour as the driving force behind economic development. one of the best-selling publications of the 1990s. Events that have broad political or economic repercussions are common triggers of de-terminologization. Although the series made its debut in computing topics. 5. for example. has dubbed this new era the knowledge society (Drucker 1993). for example. However. other domains of expertise such as economics. In this knowledge society. the popularity of the “For Dummies” books. becquerel (a unit measuring radioactivity) came to the public’s attention through media reports. Lexically speaking. Computing is by far the best example of a specialized domain that is becoming critical in our everyday lives. Canada’s conversion to the metric system in the 1970s was a good example. centimetre. kilometre. the famous economist. In eﬀect. Indeed. it rapidly moved into hundreds of other domains of knowledge that interest the public (Bellafante 1998). that used to be considered technical terms by most Canadians have now become everyday words.
it was discovered at the Mayo Clinic that Compound E could give amazing relief in some types of arthritis. not a new phenomenon. virtual. windows). anorexia nervosa → anorexia. boot. mouse. mega. Hence the many metaphorical terms found in the vocabulary of user interfaces. we suspect that experts will increasingly name new concepts in such a way as to facilitate their eventual de-terminologization. and Mackintosh 1997). to name just a few. Kendall [a biochemist at the Mayo Foundation] and his group shortened it by taking certain letters out of the long name and reducing it to just cortisone. mailbox. which contributes to their user-friendliness since. But this is too long. As we move into the knowledge society. As noted in Section 4. in 1948. Take computing. menu. ﬁle. such as desktop. well-known one. domain. Isaac Asimov (1964: 61). In summary. medical terms have generally been complicated multi-word items. Zaluski. metaphors aid in palliating technostress by allowing computer users to conceptualize a potentially complex concept in terms of a simple.128 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh other ways) probably have a higher likelihood of de-terminologizing than those which are not. As we have argued in more detail elsewhere (Meyer. especially since. which features many “user-friendly” lexical items. those that migrate into popular usage are often abbreviated (inﬂuenza → ﬂu. Their friendliness stems ﬁrst of all from the fact that many are re-uses of existing general-language senses (e. In computing. conscious. metaphors convey complex. Indeed. Anticipating much use of the name. for example. for example. Other indications that simple terms may have more de-terminologization potential come from the medical domain. wallpaper. desktop. amniocentesis → amnio). carcinoma → cancer). discusses the evolution of the term cortisone: Compound E can be called 11-dehydro-17-hydroxycorticosterone. of course. In other cases. software developers have become keenly aware of the marketing potential of metaphors.1. often based on Latin. This type of conscious naming is. while the form of a lexical item is certainly not the only factor inﬂuencing its likelihood of de-terminologizing—the previous two factors men- .g. schizophrenic → schizo. the non-Latin form is preferred (bovine spongiform encephalopathy → mad cow disease. known ones. By tradition. simple naming—particularly in the form of metaphors—is very much part of the computer world. many are highly metaphorical. by their very nature. unknown concepts via simple. Furthermore.
sense in general language. In written discourse. “It’s too early to ﬂat-line. 5. .2).1) and on specialized language (6. we have found it to be particularly frequent in newspaper sports reporting. notably usage that is playful. one-way path.4 Nature of discourse Certain types of discourse are particularly rich in de-terminologized usage. the movement between general-language and specialized language is more complex than this (see Opitz 1982: 1896 and Sager 2000: 527). Furthermore. certain terms appear to be deliberately formed in a userfriendly way. consider the following examples: (53) Hamilton had a notable defence last year but the anorexic oﬀence had little chance of converting turnovers into points. We have already noted in Section 4 that colloquial (spoken and written) discourse is more likely than formal discourse to adopt this type of determinologized usage. or that involves stretching of meaning for special eﬀect.1 and 5. This is perhaps because sports articles cover a highly restricted range of topics. but looser. user-friendly form is at least a facilitator in the process. In reality. (54) The Green Riders have missed the playoﬀs four times in the last ﬁve years and are coming oﬀ their second straight loss. we have portrayed de-terminologization as a rather simple. As an illustration.” said corner Todd McMillon.2 are probably more important—there are many cases in which a simple. The linguistic impact of de-terminologization Thus far in our article. where the starting point is a ﬁxed terminological sense in a given domain. and the end-point is a related. Perhaps we may see more of this approach to term formation as experts in this knowledge society become increasingly aware that certain concepts are likely to capture the interest of the general public.An Overview of De-terminologization 129 tioned in Sections 5. “It’s too early to give up. and can therefore become repetitive if writers do not adopt new words. in terms of its broader lexical impact on general language (6.” 6. we would like to explore some of the subtleties of the determinologization process. At this point.
Consider the case of delete. These days. but much more frequently because of its association with computing. etc. For example. the preﬁx mega had a general-language sense of ‘great’. the new de-terminologized sense therefore co-exists in general language with an older. the de-terminologized anorexic acquired a new general-language sense of ‘small’ or ‘weak’. Consider mega as a simple example. we considered that we were dealing with one or several new senses of the word in general language. . virtual has a general-language sense of ‘almost’ (virtual standstill. ‘large’8. This sense was borrowed and modiﬁed in a number of domains. including computing. for example. people are using mega in contexts where they previously might have preferred other words such as large. mega-show. The original general-language sense of virtual of course still existed when virtual de-terminologized.130 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh 6. Sometimes the original. For example. which is distinct from (though related to) its specialized medical sense. This revival is seen in an increased frequency of usage of the original wordsense. As a result of its buzz-word status. but also rather creatively. In other words. delete now turns up in quite unexpected contexts: (55) Start with the osso buco recipe above. but delete the tomatoes and replace the Marsala with an equal amount of dry white vermouth. In the case of virtual and many other words. virtual dictator). When senses co-exist in this way. which already had a general-language sense of eliminate before the days of computing. and clearly underlies the meaning of virtual reality. the terminological sense derives from a general-language sense (a common term formation process). mega is still used in its original general-language sense of ‘very big’. an older general-language sense already existed. about one million)’.e.2). mega-project. general-language sense of the same lexical item. mega-store. One ﬁnds.1 Impact on general language When de-terminologization involves a substantial dilution of the domain sense (see Section 2. When it terminologized into computing. at times even inappropriately. It appears that because of its buzzword status. It is important to note that in many cases. In the days before computing. the older. mega acquired the more specialized sense of ‘bigger by a factor of 220 (i. general-language word is used not just more frequently. but its frequency was not very high. general-language sense is sometimes “revived” as a result of the trendiness of the de-terminologized word.
which oﬀered virtual cheesecake (by which was meant a low-fat cheesecake). but to concepts that are broader than the . none of these contexts would have used delete. ironically. the lexical impact of de-terminologization on general language can go beyond the creation of a new word sense.1 Loosening of terminological meaning in originating domain When a lexical item starts to become widely used in general language. In other words. Another example of unexpected. One might argue that this context is consistent with the original. the end-point of de-terminologization may be not only the de-terminologized sense.g. but also the original general-language sense. one might have found leave out in (55). but clearly. (57) Mayor Walter Fitzgerald urged them not to delete the boarded-up ﬁre hall after complaining last week that the city needs to unload some of its unneeded inventory. the choice of virtual here is highly motivated by virtual’s buzzword status these days. (58) Manners said his union didn’t buy that line and said there were other ways of meeting the new rules than adding an extra class and making other deletions in staﬃng. or light cheesecake. it can be very tempting for experts in the original domain to “cash in” on its popularity by re-applying it within the domain. remove in (56). At this point. ‘almost’ sense of virtual (e.An Overview of De-terminologization 131 (56) Novosel was so impressed he went back this year for laser work to delete the fatty deposits on his eyelids. In conclusion. in the pre-computing age.2 Impact on specialized language Thus far. In other words. and reductions in (58). Rather. we have viewed the end-points of de-terminologization as being located only in general language. demolish in (57).2. this sense may enjoy a heightened activation. An older menu would probably have read low-calorie cheesecake. And now he’s considering zapping some age lines. low-fat cheesecake. virtual darkness). virtual dictator. 6. Clearly. we would argue that de-terminologization also has an impact on specialized language. rather creative use was found on a restaurant menu. de-terminologization has terminologizing eﬀects. When a term derives from a previously existing general-language sense. 6.
2. virtual reality has been used in much looser senses than the original one. but that are not loose enough to be considered general-language senses either. This general public. In recent years. however. the ﬁrst characteristic of total immersion has been lost in technologies such as virtual tours. even if these are not fully consistent with the original terminological sense. which do not allow users control over their experience. in the form of senses that are looser than the original terminological sense. When this happens.g. those experts in the domain who are associated with the original concept tend to bemoan the “devaluation” of the term.e. these experts may cash in on the word’s popularity and familiar- . (2) the user’s sense of interactivity with (i. we found numerous examples where experts took pains to distinguish between what they called “true” virtual reality on the one hand. In the case of virtual reality. the resultant general-language usages may percolate back again into terminological discourse. via special input/output devices. the path of de-terminologization has not only general-language “end-points”. virtual reality designated only those technologies featuring two characteristics: (1) the user’s sense of total immersion in the virtual world. Virtual reality provides an excellent illustration. These looser (but still rather terminological) uses of virtual are no doubt linked in part to the fact that virtual has become a buzzword in general language. When a term becomes well-known.132 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh original terminological concept. In other words.2 New terminological senses in other domains De-terminologized uses may return not only to the original domain of discourse (e. Rather. includes experts in a variety of domains. Whether consciously or unconsciously. control over) the simulated environment. for example. without the goggles and other special devices. where users get a 3D overview of some location via a computer screen. and without any computer screen. looser senses of the term on the other hand. computing for virtual). but to other domains as well. However experts may feel about this phenomenon. In its original terminological sense. The second characteristic of interactivity is lost in technologies such as virtual motion rides. the general public begins to use it. 6. the fact remains that when a term de-terminologizes. and newer. For example. It is well known that experts often apply buzzwords to entities or processes that they invent. it involves a number of diﬀerent points on a scale from highly terminological to highly general language.
virtual corporation).1.An Overview of De-terminologization 133 ity by using it to designate new concepts in their domains of expertise. through standardizing activities). de-terminologization may have terminologizing eﬀects. where it acquired new terminological uses (virtual currency. lexical items having more than one meaning within a given domain). 7.2.e. Rather. de-terminologization may sometimes play a role in causing intra-domain polysemy. Hence. As we noted in Section 6. 7. anorexia: medicine → economics (corporate anorexia refers to a company’s loss of eﬀectiveness due to excessive cost-cutting measures). Consider virtual: when it started to become a buzzword in general language. we saw that general language is not the only end-point of the de-terminologization process. virtual economy. however. And to the degree that they are able (e. it is clearly useful to avoid the proliferation of polysemous terms (i. when experts cash in on the popularity of a term by associating it with concepts that are “looser” than the originating terminological concept. download: computing → politics (widely used in Canada for shifting responsibility from a higher to a lower level of government). the process has implications for several aspects of the traditional approach to terminography.1 The monosemy-focussed approach For eﬃcient development and communication of expert knowledge.g. Other examples of inter-domain crossovers that are likely to be encouraged by de-terminologization include the following: virus: medicine → computing big bang: astronomy → economics (referring to economic crashes and economic reforms). it also percolated into a variety of specialized domains like economics. It would be helpful for terminographers to . terminographers are well advised to promote intra-domain monosemy as much as possible. clone: biology (computing). De-terminologization and terminography In the previous section. Three of these aspects are discussed below.
domain-focussed way of working. ideally describing it explicitly in their term records. terminographers of the knowledge society need to take a somewhat multidisciplinary view of terms. therefore. since the meaning of a term in one domain may be coloured by its uses in others. who wishes to exploit its general-language popularity by using it to name a new concept in domain Y. A terminographer. terminographers should at least make dictionary users aware that some experts use term X in one sense. and convergence of disciplines (for example. De-terminologization does. Without endorsing intra-domain polysemy. As mentioned in Section 6. It is also consistent with the growing multidisciplinarity of knowledge development. or a cohesive system of term bank entries for a domain. This type of inter-domain lexical sharing is bound to increase as we evolve into a knowledge society. This is a reasonable approach since the cornerstone of terminography is a detailed analysis of a domain’s conceptual structures. looser sense. Terminographers. Furthermore. de-terminologization is much more than a “one-way” path from specialized to general language. Hence. domain-focussed ways of working. since the passage from one domain . is a human being—one person cannot be expected to master hundreds of domains. while other experts in the same domain may use the term in another. which to a terminographer means ‘a lexical item as it is used in one particular domain’. the goal of a terminographic project is often to produce a domain dictionary. a de-terminologized item may re-enter the terminological sphere (one might say re-terminologize) when it moves into domains other than the originating one (download: computing → generallanguage → politics).2 The one-domain-at-a-time approach The fundamental unit of terminographic description is the term.2. Furthermore. tend to focus on one domain at a time9 in their work. 7. however. it is not practical to fragment the terminographer’s attention too much. A de-terminologized lexical item originating in domain X may be picked up by an expert in domain Y. after all. computing and communications).134 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh develop a greater sensitivity to this phenomenon. While we are not suggesting that terminographers abandon their traditional. In this way. through the medium of general-language. have an impact on this traditional.
we have portrayed de-terminologization as a journey that a lexical item may undertake when the underlying terminological concept becomes interesting not only to experts. In such cases. Regarding specialized language. the popularity of a de-terminologized word can cause an increased use of other. and apply a multi-domain approach to terms. Béjoint and Thoiron 2000: 15).3 Neology and Standardization In the future. both in the original domain and in other domains. terminographers need to be attentive to intra-domain polysemy. when they create new terms or standardize existing ones. Meyer 2000. 7. the new de-terminologized item may be associated with grammatical shifts. Regarding general language. the original terminological meaning loosens more dramatically. 8. though laypersons will understand the concept less deeply than experts do. determinologization can create new. The likelihood that a specialized concept will be of interest to the general public may be considered a factor in how a concept is named. de-terminologization may also have some eﬀect on the traditional terminological tasks of term-creation (neology) and standardization. the underlying domain sense remains fundamentally unchanged. These linguistic phenomena have a practical impact on the daily work of terminographers: when they analyze and describe terms. On the other hand. but also to laypersons. Ideally. . in the case of lexical items such as HIV and greenhouse effect. terminographers may see an increased blurring of the boundaries between terminography and lexicography (cf. older senses of that word. playful or humorous usage. lexical items that are likely to de-terminologize should be as user-friendly as possible. looser terminological senses of a term. Concluding remarks In this article. We have seen that two types of meaning shift may take place during this process. in the case of lexical items such as stand-alone and ﬂatline.An Overview of De-terminologization 135 to another is often made via general-language. We have also examined some broader lexical implications of determinologization for general and specialized language. they need to assess the term’s potential for de-terminologizing eﬀectively. and prone to colloquial. On the one hand.
1. 2. and in many cases it is diﬃcult. an informed parent whose child is suﬀering from bulimia may know more about the illness than a person who is not personally touched by it. The de-terminologization of anorexic is similar to that of anemic many years ago: anemic took on the general meaning of ‘lacking vitality’ and began being used to modify things such as money (e. cf. and Varantola 1997. Loosely based on the French dé-spécialisation (Mazière 1981: 84). if not impossible. For example. depth of understanding will vary from one layperson to another.g. 3. University of Ottawa Acknowledgements This research has been ﬁnancially supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. For example. Similarly. 6. undergoing semantic. to decide on the sequence of the steps involved. Meyer. Opitz says that he has “represented the transition [from general language to specialized language and back to general language] as a process along the temporal dimension. increasing numbers of lexical items will be cut loose from their ﬁxed terminological positions. cf. but in most real cases it is a lateral. It should be noted that depth of understanding may also vary from one expert to another. As more and more specialized knowledge spills over into our daily lives. For a detailed analysis of both general-language and terminological senses of virtual. Krista Varantola contributed many useful ideas to the initial phase of this project. Notes * This article is an extended version of another article published originally in French. the Oxford Dictionary of New Words claims that “The development of the shortened form amnio was a natural consequence of [its] familiarity”.” . Meyer and Mackintosh 2000. synchronous exchange as well. We prefer not to translate by de-specialization. For example. the anemic dollar). 5. 4. a family doctor’s understanding of bulimia is likely to be shallower than that of a specialist in eating disorders. grammatical and pragmatic changes in the process—changes that may have a signiﬁcant impact on the terminographer’s work in the twenty-ﬁrst century. Mackintosh.136 Ingrid Meyer and Kristen Mackintosh Lexical migrations from terminological to general language will only increase as we move into the age of the knowledge society. 1998. since this term could apply to any lexical item (including non-terminological) where a lexical meaning becomes more general.
5 October. Papers read at the Ninth EURALEX International Congress. Virpi and Krista Varantola.). Béjoint. 1998. New York: HarperBusiness. “From General Dictionaries to Terminological Glossaries. . Deﬁnition taken from WWWebster Dictionary (Merriam Webster) at http://www.g. “Le sens des termes”. Peter.” 8. Virpi and Krista Varantola. frein). “The Battle of the Knuckleheads”. In Béjoint and Thoiron (eds). URL: http: //cgi. Béjoint. which is not domain-focussed (e. EURALEX ’98 Proceedings. 1988. However. 5–19. Post-Capitalist Society. (eds). References Asimov.com/ cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=mega 9. In the words of Sager. In Heid et al. 2000. 2000. Belgium: University of Liège. Le sens en terminologie. Henri and Philippe Thoiron. 14 (on-line). puce. 354–368. 1964. 2000. No. User Expectations vs Editorial Gains”. Une unité lexicale peut se transformer en terme si elle n’est plus utilisée que dans des circonstances particulières et qu’elle ne peut plus servir de générique (char est maintenant un terme militaire qui n’est plus utilisé que dans le sens de véhicule armé et blindé). “Scientiﬁc and Technical Words in General Dictionaries”. Stuttgart: Universität Stuttgart. Liège. Vol. thematic terminography. International Journal of Lexicography 1(4).the_battle_of_th11a. Isaac. 601–610. Vol. Henri and Philippe Thoiron (eds). Gina. Henri. 393-402. a minority of terminographers practice term-oriented terminography. Papers read at the Eighth EURALEX International Congress. 1998. Words of Science and the History behind Them.pathﬁnder. “User-Sensitive Lexical Databases: A case of lexical knowledge management”. Bellafante. Canadian government terminographers who answer telephone queries about individual problematic terms in a wide variety of areas). Boston: Houghton Miﬄin. English and Dutch Departments.html Drucker. The domain-focussed approach is typical of the most common type of terminography.com/time/magazine/1998/ dom/981005/living. University of Liège. 152. Kalliokuusi. 1993. Une unité lexicale qui a été terminologisée peut se relexicaliser si elle est utilisée en tant que terme générique et perd de ce fait sa spéciﬁcité dans le domaine (par exemple ordinateur. In Fontenelle et al. II. Béjoint. Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung. “Il y a un mouvement de va-et-vient constant entre les processus de lexicalisation et de terminologisation. August 2000.m-w. Kalliokuusi. EURALEX 2000 Proceedings. Universität Stuttgart. Lyon: Presses universitaires de Lyon.An Overview of De-terminologization 137 7. (eds. Time Magazine. Vol. I. August 1998.
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