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Terminology

Terminology[1] --- is the study/knowledge/discipline of words used to denote concepts. Concepts, "понятия" and "концепты" in our course can well perform as synonymous terms, although in some scientific schools, the Russian words "концепт" and "понятие" have different meanings, and the broad concept in English is sometimes called notion[2]. Terminology also has two terminological meanings:

  1. a set of term-words for expressing the types and relations of an ontology in a particular subject area and
  2. A science/discipline not about the concepts themselves but about the designations of concepts by words, about terms.

This is similar to geometry and logic --- both specific versions of geometry and logic, and the study of the variety of geometries and logics in general.

In every language, sets of terms (terminologies in the first sense) have been formed (or continue to be formed) to express concepts from various fields of human culture/activity/work methods. And in these areas, terms acquire meanings, i.e., they denote (they are ''signs,'' so they ''denote'') some objects and their relationships that exist in the real world, not in the world of signs. Therefore, terminology can be considered part of semantics as a general study of the relationship between objects, their designations, and the concepts understood by these objects. This was already touched upon in the course ''Modeling and Collectivity,'' and will be additionally explained in the course ''Intellectstack.''

A term is always just a word. We only need words to agree on concepts, the words themselves are not important. Thus, it is perfectly unimportant whether you use the term "concept" or the term "idea" if you mean the same thing: the meaning of what the term denotes. There are many dialects, debates over which dialect is the ''real language'' (whether to translate viewpoint in systems thinking as "point of view," "description method," or simply say "viewpoint," or still translate "aspect" as "the only correct way"?!) are fruitless, one can't agree in these debates.

Disputes between people on the most important issues of life and death often turn out to be nothing more than ''term disputes'': the same object is called different things in different dialects, and people consider that they are talking about different objects (a typical example from philosophical literature would be Venus: in some countries it is called the ''morning star'' and in others the ''evening star''), or, conversely, the same words mean completely different things (''the one with a slant mowed with a scythe with a crooked handle on a meadow'').

In such ''term disputes,'' it is important to recognize that it is not a substantive conversation, but just a dispute over terms. To stop such fruitless debates, one should formulate their views on the world in speech as expected observations, not through terminology from their favorite dialect, even if it is taken from their favorite standard or dictionary. Your interlocutor may prefer a different standard or dictionary, speaking a different dialect unknown to you --- and you will not agree on the essence of the issue, just getting stuck discussing words. Thus, if you try to talk with someone on the topic of intelligence or dance, you're unlikely to reach an agreement: each person interprets ''intelligence'' or ''dance'' in their own way. Approximately it will be understandable that it is about some ''cleverness'' or ''movements to music,'' but it will be difficult to discuss in detail: you'll get stuck in a long debate about what you understand by ''intelligence'' (the word!) and what your interlocutor understands by ''intelligence'' (the word!), the same will happen with the word ''dance.'' People acknowledge that each word in a dictionary has multiple meanings, but then insist that you should use only the meaning they prefer --- you better refrain from using the other meanings of the word or come up with a new word for them. Using the terms themselves, if you haven't agreed on their dictionary meanings yet, in the conversation will be useless, reduced to the eternal fruitless dispute over terms. But if there is no dispute, and the meaning of a word is understood differently, you will get a ''misguided interpreter'' from professional jargon to everyday language --- and further, irreversible and hard-to-find errors in thinking.

If you feel that you cannot agree on a simple term, try to taboo its use, continue the conversation without using that term, just to avoid confusion. Because you will not be able to convince your interlocutor that you use a different dictionary meaning for a certain word. In our course, we did so with the words ''stakeholder,'' ''dance,'' and ''enabling.'' The use of these words caused errors among students. For example, ''enabling system'' was perceived not as the system-creator, enabling the realization of the system in the physical world, but as something like a ''supply service'' --- a power supply system, catering, refueling station, spare parts supply. It was impossible to correct these errors with any explanations, errors were made by almost every other student. Solution: all these error-provoking term-words were tabooed. They are no longer present in the course.

When you understand the conversation content under taboo conditions, simply refer to various objects, which you and your interlocutor called by one term, with different term-words, and continue the conversation --- there will be no more ''term disputes.''

Using specific terms for specific concepts (for example, ''car'' and never ''автомобиль'') implies belonging to a specific community that prefers to use these specific terms, speaking their own dialect. But, there are other communities using different terms for the same concept. It is important to agree, but the terms are not important. In systems thinking, which is transdisciplinary/fundamental, this issue receives great attention: thinking goes into concepts (types and relationships), not into words. Words can trigger certain associations, they can be useful for this, but still, thinking goes into concepts.

People from the Mumba-Yumba tribe who have never seen a car at all do not even recognize the concept denoted by the word ''car.'' But people who know about the existence of cars and do not know each other's terms will not be able to agree: if one demands ''car,'' and the other suggests a term the interlocutor doesn’t understand, there will be no agreement. At least there will be suspicion that the problem lies in different languages. But when one requests ''tačka'' and is given a garden wheelbarrow, rather than the expected car, and insists, then real problems arise in actual projects.

Terminology is fleeting, concepts survive longer. In the times of the USSR, a computer was called Electronic Computing Machine (ЭВМ), and now it's just ''computer.'' The meaning has not changed, only the speech has changed --- that is, the term, the word designation has changed. And speech-words change much faster than the objects-meanings designated by them: the word ''tačka'' is already going out of fashion for the meaning ''car'' as ''not slangy enough'' in certain groups and gradually replaced there by the word ''tačilo.'' A computer is no longer necessarily an electronic computing machine; it can be a quantum or optical computer / computing device. The acronym ЭВМ turned out to be merely a reference to a specific hardware implementation not through hydraulics, pneumatics, mechanics, but ''electronics'' --- involving the operation mode of electronic switches, initially electronic radio tubes, then discrete transistors, and later semiconductor transistors (the switch changes some ''door'' from ''open'' to ''closed'' and back). But try to Google ''electronic switch,'' and you will find that the primary meaning of this term has also changed! It includes both ''digital signature key'' and just the key to a door with an ''electronic filling.''

Terminology can significantly differ not only between different professions but also between different subprofessions within the same profession. What is called a ''software tool'' for systems analysts working according to GOSTs will be an ''application'' for foreign software vendors, or ''software'' for developers.

If the inability to agree on terms becomes a real problem hindering project implementation, there are various approaches to solving it:

  • Terminological fascism, when only one term is declared correct by someone, and all others are considered incorrect (compare it with ''Grammar nazi''). This approach has many variations: unconditionally demand the singularity of the term used (no synonyms for the term), demand compliance with accepted standards (specific GOSTs, for example, not textbooks or other GOSTs), require the use of a domestic root in the word (''wetsoles'' instead of ''galoshes''), insist on adhering to traditions (''rubbers,'' but not ''galoshes''), ignore modern norms (''coffee'' is always masculine, although even in dictionaries it can now be used in the neuter gender).

  • Terminological indifference, when no attention is paid at all to words and their meanings. No ''implicitly correct versions'' or references to authoritative sources. At the same time, if the meaning of a word changes during the conversation, it is often not tracked at all, and the speech turns out to be ''vague.''

  • Meaning accuracy (retaining the type) with the allowance for very different synonym terms denoting the same concept. This approach usually involves a lengthy discussion of which specific concept is meant, and then any term-words can be used to refer to the agreed-upon concept. Furthermore, the use of terms preferred by different professional speech communities is entirely permissible. Moreover, exact terms may not be used if the meaning is understood. For example, when discussing an automobile, it is entirely possible to call it a ''self-propelled cart,'' and it will not be a criminal act if the message recipient understands what is meant.

In our course, we will use an approach that seeks to achieve strict understanding of meanings (concepts), with the possible use of different synonym designations, that is, different terms for the same concept. Call it anything you want, use five terms from five different standards in three languages --- but agree on what exact concept/concept you mean: interlocutors should understand not the term, but what you mean by that term: understand the meaning-concept not the sign-term. This is discussed by semantics, the teaching of meanings. Systems thinking is based not only on the theory of concepts and ontology but also on semantics. To fluently grasp systems thinking, one needs to be familiar with all the other methodologies in the intellect stack of thinking.

When several synonym terms are specified, in our course, they are written with slashes, like ''locomotives'': software application/application/program/soft application. And we will not pay attention to finer differences in meanings for each of these synonyms --- or discuss this difference specifically if it suddenly matters and the discussion is not about terminological but substantive differences, differences in concepts.

Criticism of this approach is also not uncommon: ''How can you teach people when you express the same thing with different words? You must choose a single term and then use only it in the course to denote a certain concept! That's how it's always done in textbooks!.'' The answer to this criticism is simple: in life, you are likely to encounter people who denote concepts not with the terms introduced in books and courses, including our course. So, our course will train you to use various terms for the same concepts: pay attention --- you are not just learning new words or being forced to memorize terminology. An attempt is being made to provide knowledge about concepts and their relationships, no matter under what synonym-terms these concepts are concealed.

Regarding the fact that specifying many synonyms slows down the reading of the text, we have already written: slow reading and reflection on what has been read improves learning outcomes. If the text is read quickly and smoothly, it is not guaranteed that anything will be remembered from that text in three days.

We also have student gratitude in favor of the adopted solution for explicit demonstration of synonymization through term-''locomotives.'' Students usually do not understand why thoughts are expressed in such a complex manner through synonym chains in the first half of the course, but somewhere in the second half, they gain experience using the course material in real projects, where a variety of terminology prevails. Here they understand the importance of moving away from work with a single ''exact term'' and the habit of working with concepts, not terms. Synonymous chains are intended to develop the habit of understanding the meaning of statements regardless of the terms used.

About the point that mentioning many synonym terms hinders reading the text, we have already noted: slow reading and reflection on what has been read improves learning outcomes. If the text is read quickly and smoothly, it is not guaranteed that anything will be remembered from that text in three days.


  1. https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Терминология ↩︎

  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/notion ↩︎