It’s carnival time in Europe, so it seems appropriate to again say something about highway engineering and language, an area where engineers and carnival people seem to take a similar carefree approach. Put briefly there are at least four problems with technical language:
- there are different languages in the world, so that say a German engineer will have a different term to an English engineer for the same highway element – for example, bike freeway and Radschnellweg
- Two engineers working in the same language will use a different term for the same highway element. For example Wikipedia says that “A bike freeway, also known as a cycling superhighway, fast cycle route or bicycle highway, is an informal name for a bicycle path that is meant for long-distance traffic”
- Engineers will not always check to see if an appropriate term exists, before they invent a new one.
- Engineers often don’t define what the term they use actually mean, perhaps relying on the succinct Lewis Carroll explanation, as in ” “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
A term such as Radschnellweg can simply be a group descriptor for several, more detailed types of the same highway element. Take for example the suggested details of a Radschnellverbindung (another term) from the publication “Qualitätsstandards für Radschnellverbindungen in Baden-Württemberg” – the document suggests four different design standards ….
Standard for bike expressways (built-up areas, non built-up areas); Reduced standard for bike expressways (built-up areas, non built-up areas)
…. and for each of these, 12 different types of Radschnellverbindung – which gives a total of 48 different design suggestions.
- Engineers could begin by checking to see if a suitable term already exists before they invent a new one
- All engineering terms to be expressed first in terms of one language (English ?)
- All engineering terms to be defined
This suggests the preparation of a global, dictionary of engineering terms.
One concern about “too many terms” is that they can make things more complex for engineers than they really are. For example, there are many different terms for “cycle lanes” which I suspect refer to perhaps only ten or fewer, really different types.