17 October 2011

TJ and term variability

Technical journalism is often characterised by an odd mix of rigorous terminology and extreme term variability. Although difficult to desribe and even more difficult to quantify, the phenomenon is readily illustrated by example. Take naval defence. English-language naval defence journalists consistently refer to nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines using precisely that term or its short form SSBN. Similarly, their French counterparts consistently use sous-marin nucléaire lanceur d'engins or the short form SNLE. Contrast this with the following observations:
  • French journalists and engineers writing about combat management systems use: système d'exploitation navale des informations tactiques ; système de traitement de l'information ; système de combat ; système de direction de combat ; centre nerveux; combat management system ; CMS ; cerveau informatique, among others.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, Jane’s naval publications used over 20 designations referring to the BPC programme of French naval shipbuilder DCNS, including: … FS Mistral, the amphibious assault, command and power projection ship (BPC) … [JNI, 07/10/2004]; … Tonnerre, the second of two Batiments [sic] de Projection et de Commandement (BPC) multipurpose amphibious ships … [JNI, 22/03/2007]; and … Mistral-class amphibious assault vessels …[JNI, 04/03/2010].  

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