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  • Sep 16, 2021 1:10 am GMT
Electrical Apparatus

Precision suffers when we can't agree on the meanings of words

During the past several years, we have become acquainted with the smart grid, which is being billed as the more efficient and more reliable electricity supply system. Like most emerging technologies, it has given us many new terms, or different ways to use the older ones. This may lead us to consider the question once asked of the Biblical prophet Job: "Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?" What are some of these words?

Back in the old days (what anyone past the age of 60 might think of as only yesterday), grade school students were told that "a noun is the name of a thing," that adjectives described those things in some way, and that verbs denoted some sort of action. It's now the fashion to show off the latest technology by indiscriminately using those categories interchangeably. Some examples:

Mehics. Though used as a noun, metric is an adjective, describing a type of measurement based on the meter (a unit of linear measurement) that includes both multiples and fractions of that unit. Often, of course, we can guess a word's intended meaning by examining the context in which it appears. If we apply that here, we discover that "a metric" is apparently intended to mean a "procedure," "plan," "program," "activity," "system" (each of those either singular or plural) - and probably some other things as well. But a word that can mean almost anything really means nothing.

Robust. This may mean "strong," "active," "effective," "energetic," "resistant" - and again, perhaps much else. Do we really need yet another synonym?

Ti'ansactive. Most of us know what a "transaction" is: some sort of give-and-take between two persons or organizations. Does "transactive" describe such a process? Does it describe the circumstances under which such a process originates? Applied to "energy," which inherently involves back-and-forth movement or "transactions" because energy can neither be created or destroyed, "transactive" seems to be a needless artificial creation.

Digitalization. An impressive word because it contains so many syllables. It's used to describe the manner in which some function becomes expressible or carried out digitally. We've seen no explanation why the word is superior to digitization other than containing more syllables.

Implementation. Useful only in that it contains five syllables. "Usage," "accomplishment," "carrying out," "adoption," or "completion" convey the meaning while toting less baggage. Functionality. "Function" or "functional" should suffice, depending upon context.

Dynamic. An adjective meaning "active" or "in motion." This can properly describe the behavior of some device or process. Its misuse is as a noun. The term "a dynamic," or the phrase "the dynamics of a situation," have no clear meaning.

Crosscutting. This means something to any lumberman or woodworker. Anyone using the term to some other audience needs to start by defining the intended meaning. What that might be, we cannot say.

Analytics. This is used as a noun - as the name for some activity involving analysis - the process of arriving at some conclusion based on relationships within a collection of data. "Analyzing" (performing "analysis") yields some "results," not "analytics."

Calculus. Unless you're a doctor or dentist, the only useful meaning of this noun is to describe a branch of mathematics simultaneously developed by English and German mathematicians in the 19th century, and widely taught at the college (and sometimes high school) level. Used to describe some entirely unrelated process or body of knowledge, it has no universal meaning.

Platform. That upon which something rests, someone performs, or something is built. In technology, it seems to mean "basis" most often, and it's unclear why that word isn't used. EA

Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 16, 2021

"Though used as a noun, metric is an adjective, describing a type of measurement based on the meter..."

According to Merriam-Webster, metric is most commonly used as a noun, meaning "a standard of measurement" -

not a procedure, a plan, a program, an activity, or a system.

Robust, as applied to energy, usually means "capable of performing without failure under a wide range of conditions", and not strong, active, effective, energetic, or resistant.

Digitalization and digitization first appeared in print in 1959 and 1954, respectively. Words adopted more or less contemporaneously are considered interchangeable.

Implementation refers to "the process of making something active or effective" - not usage, accomplishment, carrying out, adoption, or completion.

The best way to resolve disagreements about the meanings of words is to look them up in a dictionary - not to exclude the possibility their meanings may have changed over time, or even that we've been using them incorrectly.

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