7 th Scientific/Research Symposium with International Participation
„Metallic and Nonmetallic Materials“ Zenica, B&H, 15-16. May 2008
SOME ASPECTS OF TERMINOLOGY
IN MATERIALS RELATED KNOWLEDGE SHARING
Sead Spuzic*,**, Ke Xing** and Kazem Abhary**
*Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
** University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia
Keywords: Materials, terminology, ambiguity
Clarity of concepts and relevant terms is essential for knowledge sharing. Evolution, globalisation and
acceleration of knowledge transfer have revealed hindrances such as circularity, prolixity, homonymy
and jargon. The Internet enables communication with the speed of magnetic waves, thus exposing
hindrances, such as misunderstanding and ambiguity. This treatise presents a review of critical concepts
important for sharing the knowledge relevant to materials engineering and science. Examples of
ambiguous concepts are discussed. A strategy of using trans-disciplinary and transparent concepts is
proposed, following a hierarchy that allocates priority to mathematics and chemo-physics.
New materials and techniques are developing with a fascinating rate and this escalates problems
of sharing this growing treasure of knowledge. There is considerable worldwide discord in the
use of terms and definitions in materials science, engineering and education due to an evident
lack of common terminological criteria for constructing and using a standardized nomenclature.
The development of the Internet and digitronic information has also accelerated the
multiplication of homonyms and synonyms. Ambiguous concepts are hindering the application
of knowledge. Manufacturing systems relay on cross-disciplinary information required by a wide
variety of users. Other socio-economic projects also operate within inter-enterprise environments
and face the problem that different information models are likely to be used by different parts of
the project teams.
In spite of the presence of internationally established institutions promoting standardisation and
globalisation of terms in engineering and scientific language [1-6] many sources [7-14] point at
continuous presence of terminological inconsistencies. There is an obvious need for an
international initiative to recommend clear, simple terminologies and definitions that have the
potential for wide acceptance. Important examples of ambiguous concepts (terms) should be
exposed to broad scrutiny within and beyond the academe. An estimate of a competent
consensus will point at a feasible strategy for promoting a trans-disciplinary and transparent
lexicon, with a hierarchy that allocates priority to basic disciplines.
Systematic data base will provide evidence of ambiguous usage of key concepts. Such evaluation
can be based on reviewing published sources and distributing questionnaires to analyse the
trends and promote definitions that are likely to be adopted on a competent scale.
In this treatise, several examples of important terms are presented along with an attempt to
propose their disambiguation. The minimum intent is to demonstrate how these key terms can be
defined to avoid ambiguities such as prolixity, homonymy, synonymy and circularity.
Preliminary research and relevant concepts and axioms are listed in [14-16].
2.1. Term and terminology
Numerous sources [2, 3, 6, 17, 18] present a variety of meanings for ‘term’. The most differing
a) ‘term’ is a (special class of) word(s) used for something particular (e.g. a thing or concept),
e.g. “He learnt many medical terms” and,
b) ‘term’ stands for a definite period (extent) of time, e.g. “During his term in this office…”
The following definition of the word ‘term’ is proposed: ‘Term’ is a common noun, or an
expression constituted of a common noun and its modifiers, that has a precise meaning in some
uses such as engineering, science, art, profession, or subject that denotes something of common
significance, excluding the proper nouns. Hypernyms for ‘term’ are ‘noun’ and ‘word’.
It is instructive to elaborate on the difference between the term ‘term’ and its hypernym—
‘word’. ‘Word’ denotes all grammatical variations of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs,
pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections. ‘Term’, however, is the lexical model, a
concise representation of an event, relation, phenomenon, system, discipline, theory, or
something else. Some typical examples of terms include ‘iron’, ‘technique’, ‘tensile strength’.
Some words assume their meaning in accordance with their context, and the actual logic is
governed by syntax that does not leave a margin for misunderstanding. This non-coincidental
diversity should not be treated as a homonymy. Definitions of this type are purposely made
general and flexible, thus making it possible for them to be applied to a broad range of cases. The
rationale for the existence of such nouns includes advantages of analogy and lexical economy.
For example, the common noun ‘flexibility’ generally implies ‘a capability to adapt to changes’.
It may also mean ‘capability of a solid bar to be bent’ or ‘ability of a person to adapt to diverse
social influences’. Such homonyms are not considered to be ambiguous. However, such common
nouns do not belong to the class of ‘terms’.
On the other hand, the real homonyms and synonyms can cause vagueness, confusion, and even
misinformation. An important capacity of terms — to represent complex information, definition
and even the complete theory — is hindered by ambiguity, homonymy, and synonymy. For
example, by saying that something presents an ‘adiabatic system’, a number of chemo-physical
relations are ascribed to this system, assuming an availability of a disambiguated definition.
Sources [3-5, 17] define ‘terminology’ as a system of words used to name things in a particular
discipline, e.g. ‘legal terminology’ and ‘biological terminology’, ‘educational terminology’ etc.
‘Nomenclature’ is listed as synonym. It is recommended to use this existing term meaning “a
system or set of terms or symbols especially in a particular science, discipline, or art. Its
hyponym is ‘word’ .
Sources [3 and 17] present the homonymic meaning for ‘terminology’ defining it as “a field of
study (science) of terms”.
It is proposed that term ‘terminology’ be applied in analogy to terms such as ‘biology’ (science
of biosphere), ‘anthropology’ (science of humankind), ‘psychology’ (science of the psyche),
geology (the science of materials that constitute the Earth), epistemology (science of knowledge)
and so on. Hence, ‘terminology’ is a science of terms. Its direct hypernym is ‘science’.
2.2. Technique and technology
Homonymous usage of the term ‘technology’ is notorious in engineering and scientific
publications. It appears that numerous sources, including the international institutions and
scientific journals (such as Materials Processing Technology and the World Wide Web
Consortium ) use the term ‘technology’ to address a ‘technique’ or a ‘system of techniques’ [17,
18]. The following definitions are therefore presented to contribute to disambiguation of these
‘Technique’ is an organised human action that causes, directly or indirectly, a predefined change
(alteration) of some phenomenon. Technique is a far-reaching term that includes both simple
actions (such as wood chopping) and complex performance (such as ice-skating technique, bone
transplanting technique, computer programming or a technique of landing a space-probe on the
surface of the Mars). It may refer to a mode of using human assets only, such as a swimming
technique. However, the term technique certainly also includes modes of using a very wide range
of tools, equipment, and other means. Technical actions are sometimes performed by quite
remote means (e.g. robots, computers or artificial intelligence systems). Nevertheless, they are
always planned, designed, desired and controlled by humans at least to some significant extent.
The hypernyms for ‘technique’ are ‘manner’, ‘method’ and ‘ability’.
The term ‘technique’ should not be used to denote an activity performed by any other creatures
and living forms such as dolphins, ants, bees or amoebae. For such instances it is proposed to use
more common nouns such as ‘manner’, ‘ability’, ‘capacity’, etc.
Using the same logic applied to derive the meaning of ‘terminology’, ‘geology’ etc, we define
‘technology’ as a science (study, knowledge) of techniques, including the study of relevant
resources, e.g. the study of tools, equipments and other assets, as well as the materials and other
matter forms (such as electromagnetic radiation). Hypernym for ‘technology’ is ‘science’.
2.3. Iron and metals
In line with its enormous significance in economy, biosphere and human life in particular, iron is
notable for being the fourth most abundant element in the earth's crust, and amongst the ten most
abundant chemical elements in the Universe. However, the term ’iron’ is also used in two-word
combination to denote an alloy – so called ‘cast iron’ – where the iron (chemical element)
occupies the highest portion and significant additives are e.g. silicon and carbon. Reputable
international institutions and scientific journals Materials Letters, Wear, Materials Science and
Engineering, and many other disseminate publications where further homonymic mutations can
be observed such as ‘white cast iron’, ‘grey cast iron’ ‘nodular iron’, ‘ductile cast iron’ or simply
‘white iron’, ‘gray iron’, ‘ductile iron’, ‘malleable iron’ etc . It is worth noting that some
developing languages translate this complete homonymy and infect their own taxonomy thus
spreading this ambiguity even beyond the English language.
An obvious solution is to use a term well established for over two thousand years − ‘ferrum’ −
instead using the term ‘iron’ to denote this important chemical element.
Term ‘metal’ is another example of homonymy. According to the basic scientific disciplines,
metals are well defined and classified group in the periodic system of the chemical elements.
Their alloys play one of the most important roles in engineering and sciences. Metals also
present precisely defined components in numerous important compounds and in novel
Another confusing term is so-called ‘white metal’, which is any of several light-colored alloys
used as a base for plated silverware and ornaments, as well as any of several lead-base or tin-
base alloys used for bearings, jewellery, and various miniature products (e.g. medals).
It is not a good practice to use the term ‘metals’ to denote ‘alloys’, as it is done for example in
[19 and 20]. The use of term ‘metallic materials’ is recommended, with a suggestion to consider
the introduction of term ‘metallics’ (in analogy to ‘ceramics’, ‘polymers’ and ‘composites’).
2.4. Strength and elasticity
It is hard to think of terms that are more precisely standardised and more frequently used in
relation to solids than the mechanical attributes evaluated during the uniaxial tensile test. Yet,
these concepts are not free of synonymy and homonymy. Typical examples are as follows:
i. Ultimate Tensile Strength  v. Proof Stress [22s, 24]
ii. Ultimate Tensile Stress [21, 22] vi. Proof Strength 
iii. Ultimate Strength  vii. Offset Yield Stress 
iv. Tensile Strength [22, 23, 27] viii. Offset Yield Strength [25-27]
The term ‘tensile strength’ is defined by the International Organisation for Standards and by
most national standards (e.g. ASTM) [28-32]. It can be defined as ‘the maximum tensile
engineering stress a solid can withstand, during the standardised test, before fracture or necking’.
Use of terms under (i) to (iii) is not recommended. If there is a need for a common term for
tensile and compressive uniaxial strength, term ‘uniaxial strength’ is recommended.
The term under (viii), ‘offset yield strength’, is also standardised [30, 32]. The offset yield
strength of a solid can be determined by the uniaxial stress corresponding to the intersection of
the stress-strain curve and a line parallel to the elastic part of the stress-strain curve, offset by a
specified permanent strain (permanent deformation). The offset is frequently specified as a strain
of 0.2 or 0.1 %. Therefore, the use of terms under (v) to (vii) is not recommended.
Yet another confusing term is ‘modulus of elasticity’. Young's modulus (E) is a measure of the
stiffness of a given material. It is also known as the ‘Young modulus’, ‘modulus of elasticity’,
‘elastic modulus’ or ‘tensile modulus’ [18, 22, 23]. This homonymy appears to be quite
misleading for students, and even the researchers and editors of reputable journals  become
confused about its actual correlation with the elasticity of solids. Therefore it is recommended to
consider the use the unique term ‘Young modulus’ and avoid the use of the above listed
Definitions of many important concepts, their formal notations, and how their hierarchy should
be implemented, are still controversial issues. Clarity is definitely important for knowledge
sharing. Unambiguous concepts are probability intensifiers of a high significance. Entropy of a
system can by reduced by defining relevant topological relations of significance.
In this age of cross-disciplinary knowledge, spectacularly enhanced by artificial intelligence
means, both communication speed and misinformation waste multiply at critical rates.
Particularly obstructive is the increase in information entropy as a result of accumulation of
homonyms and synonyms combined with other causes of ambiguity. It would be helpful if the
editors and publishers insist on consistency in ontology alignment as well as on the conceptual
hierarchy and disambiguation.
Mission of the academe includes maintaining the knowledge pellucidity, and where needed,
improving the transparency within and between the disciplines. Universities are institutions that
carry on the responsibility for initiating projects aiming at disambiguation and dissemination of
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