What's the word?

I challenge anyone to show me an editor who does not think of himself or herself as a wordsmith. Words, after all, are the editor's stock and trade

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I challenge anyone to show me an editor who does not think of himself or herself as a wordsmith. Words, after all, are the editor's stock and trade. In a rapidly changing, high-technology field like the cabling industry, however, words can be slippery things, indeed. Take the following examples:

Cable/cabling-Cable and cabling are not the same thing, according to John Siemon, vice president of technology of the Siemon Co. (Watertown, CT).

According to Siemon, cable is a transmission medium consisting of wires or fibers enclosed in some kind of protective sheath. Use of the term cabling, however, implies not just the transmission medium itself but also the connectors at each end. This is strictly a cabling-industry distinction; it is not made in the Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary sitting on my desk, which lists cabling as a verb only.

Campus-The dictionary defines this term as the grounds and buildings of a university, college, or school. We at Cabling Installation & Maintenance, and the cabling industry in general, use campus to describe a business park, industrial complex, military base, theme park, resort complex, or any other set of buildings unified by common ownership and set on geographically continuous grounds.

Communication/communications-Is there a difference between using this word in the singular form versus the plural? The dictionary does not make a firm distinction between the singular and plural uses of this noun, although it does use the plural form to mean "a system for communicating (as of telephones)." It also gives "the technology of the transmission of information (as by the printed word or telecommunication)" as being plural in form, but either singular or plural in construction-whatever that means. I conclude from these definitions that the two forms are interchangeable, at least grammatically.

Component-We in the cabling industry tend to distinguish between cable and components or componentry, with cable as the transmission medium, while components are the devices connected to the cable, binding it together into a network or system. Hence, the distinction between a cable manufacturer, such as Siecor, and a component manufacturer, such as Molex.

Data communications-This term is not found, as such, in my dictionary, which was copyrighted in 1988. We use it to denote information exchange between computers, setting it off against "voice communications" or "telecommunications."

Electro-optics-The term means "a branch of physics that deals with the effects of an electric field on light traversing it." It is to be distinguished from optoelectronics, defined below.

Fiber optics-The noun in plural form refers to "thin, transparent fibers of glass or plastic that transmit light."

Media/medium-One of my pet peeves is using the plural form of this noun for the singular, as we commonly do in the cabling industry (but not in this magazine). That is, we refer to coaxial cabling media, when actually coaxial cable is really a single cabling medium. I find when I look in the dictionary, however, that once again my understanding of the usage of these words is a little off. If you mean by the word "a channel or system of communication or information," then the usage given is plural, media.

Optoelectronics-This is a plural noun that is singular in construction, which means, I suppose, that it is correct to say "optoelectronics is...." The term refers to "a branch of electronics that deals with electronic devices for emitting, modulating, transmitting, and sensing light."

As noted above, it does not mean the same thing as electro-optics.

Outside plant (OSP)-A telecom primer I checked defines OSP as "that portion of intrabase communications systems extending from the main distribution frame [MDF] outward to the telephone instrument or the terminal connections for other technical components." The MDF, in turn, is defined as the "physical facility to which outside lines and trunks are terminated for protection and crossconnected by jumpers to central-office equipment." A rough definition of outside plant would be all the communications infrastructure between the central office and the customer premises. Customer-owned OSP, then, would be any communications infrastructure installed outdoors on a campus.

Photonic/photonics-Photonic is the adjectival form of "photon;" no current plural definition is listed in the dictionary for photonics.

Premise/premises-This is another one of my favorites. The dictionary uses the singular form, premise, to mean "a building or part of a building, usually with its appurtenances (as grounds);" the plural form is defined as "a tract of land with the buildings thereon." The distinction seems slight to me, and usage in the industry seems about evenly split between "premise wiring" and "premises wiring," with the plural form perhaps a bit more popular because of its long use by telephone companies. The common term there, for instance, is "customer premises equipment" or CPE, defined as any equipment located on the customer's premises, versus the telephone company's central office (with the OSP obviously connecting the two).

I prefer the singular form to avoid confusion with the other, or logical, meaning of premise, as something assumed or taken for granted. In doing so, however, I open myself to parody by veteran viewers of Cops, who may accost me with "the alleged perpetrator vacated the premises."

Solution-The cabling industry commonly uses the word solution to describe a component or system that performs an undefined task or solves an undefined problem. This word is another one of my pet peeves. Like the word "answer," solution should have, but is usually used without, an antecedent; "problems" have solutions, just as "questions" have "answers."

Telecommunication/telecommunications-In its singular form, this noun is defined as "communication at a distance (as by telephone or television);" a second definition, noted as usually being plural, is "a science that deals with telecommunication." In our industry, then, we engage in telecommunication, while at the local university telecommunications is taught.

Wire-Wire is not interchangeable with cable, at least in my view. Cable can contain wire, which is a copper- or metallic-based medium that conducts electricity. Cable, however, can also contain optical fibers, which transmit light and not electricity. Cable, then, is a more general term than wire.

And please, please do not ask me to define futureproof!

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Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.
Group Editorial Director
arlynp@pennwell.com

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