Creating New Words

Construction is a field where new technologies and practices often justify the invention of a new term. As an example, I coined the phrase, "studcast" to describe a new type of wall panel that consisted of a hybrid of prefabricated light-gage steel frame with a thin precast concrete veneer. I offered the term to all the manufacturers of this type of product, and most of them now use it to as a standardized, simple, and descriptive term.

However, some invented terms are unnecessary and can lead to confusion.  A case in point is the recently coined term, "civionics".

I first encountered the term in the article "New civionics technologies for structural health monitoring" in the November 2010 issue of CE News. While the article shares valuable information about the evolving science of structural health monitoring. I question whether the use of the term "civionics" was equally valuable.

The author, Nathan Yang, defines the term as "the synergistic combination of civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, photonics, and other disciplines for [structural health monitoring]. This definition suggests that "civionics" is an equivalent term for "structural health monitoring", a field that already encompasses a variety of disciplines. Indeed, electrical and computer engineering are already integrated into the practice of civil engineering. In this case, "civionics" is a word of of questionable value in a field already cluttered with jargon.

A search of the CE News website reviews that "civionic" has not previously been used in the publication. Similarly, a search of the internet reveals that the term has few users -- most of its occurrences on the internet result from one site quoting another. A similar concern has been raised by a commentator on Google Talk who opines, "All of the references describe [civionics] as an emerging field, yet they seem to point in a circular manner as to establishing the notability of this term. Wikipedia is not a place to establish notability. So if this term is not widely used in the engineering field, it should not have an article here." Nor, in my opinion, should notability be established by an oblique reference in a magazine article.

But marketing is marketing, and I note that the author of the CE News article works for a company that sells electronics to the Civil Engineering community. Maybe he feels his company will benefit from embracing new term. How ironic, then, that the term "civionic" does not appear in his website, either.