By: Charles Bowen
Science Jargon Translated For Readers
To use the resource, visit the site at http://www.harcourt.com/dictionary
Close your books. It’s time for the pop quiz.
What is acid sludge? Military geology? A flame bucket? If a
neurologist speaks of “Aristotle’s anomaly,” what the heck is he
talking about? If a surgeon’s report mentions a “McBurney’s
incision,” can you find out where she cut? If a cardiologist
refers to “deep-vein thrombosis,” how can you translate that into
English for your readers?
And then there’s the murky language of the mind. What do
psychologists really mean when they speak of associative
inhibitions, functional fixedness and neurasthenic neurosis? The
language of science and technology, often flirting with outright
jargon, is a daily reality for journalists.
I don’t know what we thought the “Information Age” would be like,
but in practice it has meant an explosion in these technical
terms from the ever-more specialized segments of our society. It
is a waste of time to merely rail against “techno-babble.” Savvy
newsrooms are taking the responsibility of trying to explain and
elaborate on these often mind-numbing terms.
But where can you find the source for reliable definitions?
Harcourt Inc., a major publisher of reference works, and its
Academic Press unit, have provided the place in cyberspace. The
Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology, the largest
scientific dictionary in the English language, now is online,
enabling you to search more than 130,000 terms in multiple
To use the resource, visit the site (http://www.harcourt.com/dictionary),
where a search box is provided at the top of a
no-nonsense introductory page. Enter a word or phrase and either
click the “Go” button or press the equivalent key.
If the site finds more than one entry matching your query, it
lists them with hyperlinks, inviting you to click the one you
seek. The term is then listed with a pronunciation key,
definitions, cross-references, etymology, and in a number of
cases, a link to sound files that pronounce it for you.
Alternatively, you also can browse the reference works by
scientific field. On the introductory page are links to some 125
subcategories, grouped under:
Engineering Sciences. Click here to reach lexicons of fields as
diverse as agriculture, agronomy, architecture, aviation,
telecommunications, textiles, and transportation.
Life Sciences. This includes biochemistry, biology, ecology,
forestry, nutrition, physiology, toxicology, and zoology.
Medical Sciences. Linking from here are subcategories such as
cardiology, hematology, neurology, oncology, pathology,
pharmacology, radiology, surgery, and veterinary medicine.
Physical Sciences. This offers links to fields such as
acoustics, astronomy, chemistry, electronics, geology,
meteorology, mineralogy, nuclear physics, oceanography, optics,
particle physics, and volcanology.
Mathematics & Computers. Featured here are the terms associated
with artificial intelligence, chaotic dynamics, computer
programming, and statistics.
Social Sciences. Here are connections to subcategories such as
anthropology, archaeology, behavior, geography, linguistics, and
General & Miscellaneous. Included here are abbreviations,
bibliographies, and a host of other material.
Other considerations in using the site for your writing and
For an explanation of the format and conventions used in the
dictionary’s entries, click the link labeled “Find out more about
the Dictionary” on the introductory page. A resulting screen
gives you links to the work’s preface and foreword, as well as a
discussion of abbreviations used and the fields covered.
Harcourt has other reference resources linked from the page.
To reach them, scroll to the bottom of the introductory screen to
the data-entry box labeled “Visit another area.” Click the down
arrow beside the box and select a section from the drop-down
menu, choosing from topics such as “K-12 educators &
librarians,”college educators,” “adult learners and continuing
ed.,” and so on. Click the “Go” button to reach the selected
If the dictionary turns out to be something you’ll use often
in your work, you might want to buy a copy on CD-ROM. A link to
an online ordering site is listed on the introductory page.
Bowen writes columns, articles and books from West Virginia, and is host of the daily Internet News syndicated radio show (http://www.netnewstoday.com).
Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher