Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Terminology vs nomenclature

First published 8 September 2010 @ just some words

According to The Concise Oxford Dictionary,
nomenclature n. 1 a person’s or community’s system of names for things. 2 the terminology of a science etc. 3 systematic naming. 4 a catalogue or register.
terminology n. (pl. -ies) 1 the system of terms used in a particular subject. 2 the science of the proper use of terms.
I must say that these definitions do not add much clarity. Do you see any difference between “system of names for things” and “system of terms”? Moreover, the nomenclature (2) appears to be equated with the terminology. As for terminology (2), it is akin to terminology as defined by Wikipedia: “the study of terms and their use”, although I have my doubts whether there is such thing as “the science of the proper use of terms”. As was mentioned before, “logy” does not always mean “a subject of study or interest”. And what is “proper”?

On the other hand, Merriam-Webster defines terminology as
1 the technical or special terms used in a business, art, science, or special subject
2 nomenclature as a field of study
No, this does not help at all. Let us agree on the following: terminology is not nomenclature, and nomenclature is not terminology. I suggest these working definitions:
    terminology: a set of terms used in a particular field. nomenclature: a system of generating new terms for a particular field.
Completely different things. Terminology is a subset of vocabulary and, therefore, is part of the language. Nomenclature is a set of external rules. A good nomenclature system has few rules all of which should be understood and applied, preferably with reproducible results, by more than one person.

That is not to say that terminology does not depend on nomenclature or vice versa. Terms can be formed by systematic application of nomenclature rules — that’s what the nomenclature is devised for. But they also can arise by different mechanisms, just like any new words do. Often, terms are recruited from the existing lexicon and conferred new meanings. For instance, the word “residue” acquired specific meanings in fields of math, chemistry or law.

The Russian word for nomenclature, номенклатура, has an additional meaning: the bureaucratic class of Soviet Union and its descendants (as in “post-Soviet nomenklatura”).

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