Dr. Drang explains engineering language to the masses →

September 24, 2014 |

This hybrid heritage carries through into the language of engineering, where we use everyday words (tradesman) to express precisely defined concepts (scientist). This makes it difficult to communicate engineering principles to nonengineers because we use many words in ways that don’t match up with their colloquial meaning. I’m sure you can come up with examples of this in other professions—even science does it to some extent—but in engineering, many of our most fundamental ideas and properties use common words.

Excellent article. My favorite example of this dual-meaning conflict is the word “theory”, as in, scientific theory:

When used in non-scientific context, the word “theory” implies that something is unproven or speculative. As used in science, however, a theory is an explanation or model based on observation, experimentation, and reasoning, especially one that has been tested and confirmed as a general principle helping to explain and predict natural phenomena.

A scientific theory is far from speculative: it has been repeatedly confirmed by anecdotal and experimental evidence, and it has been thoroughly reviewed and tested by the rest of the scientific community. That’s why I find it so laughable when creationists attempt to deride Darwin’s theory of evolution by saying “it’s just a theory”.