Digital How-To

By Bowen, Charles | Editor & Publisher, January 1, 2001 | Go to article overview

Digital How-To


Bowen, Charles, Editor & Publisher


IN THE IVORY TOWER OF TECHNO-BABBLE

'Academic Press Dictionary' parses the Information Age

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's 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 categories.

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, to a link to sound files that pronounced 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. …

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