Wörterbuch der Physik. Englisch-Deutsch / Deutsch-Englisch

(CD-ROM version)

Authors: Walter Greulich and Dirk Meenenga

Reviewed by Thomas Hedden

[Note: This review appeared in the January, 1999 issue of the ATA Chronicle.]

Publisher: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag GmbH (at the time this review was written, this item was available in the United States from i.b.d., Ltd., which has since closed its doors and been succeeded by InTrans Book Service; unforunately, InTrans no longer carries German titles. This title can now be ordered from Lehmanns Fachbuchhandlung in Germany).

Publication date: 1997

Platforms supported: Windows 3.x and higher

Language of user interface of search software: German only

Documentation: German only

Number of CD-ROMs: 1

Approximate number of entries: 30,000

ISBN: 3-8274-0229-8

Price: $127.00 from i.b.d., Ltd. at the time this was written; as of September 2004 it was 82.00 Euros from Lehmanns

Greulich and Meenenga's English-German and German-English dictionary of physics is available either in CD-ROM or in print form ($127.00 each from i.b.d. Ltd.), or both together ($195.00). This review covers only the CD-ROM version, and concentrates and the German-English direction.

The documentation and user interface are only in German, but presumably anyone who would want to use this dictionary would know German well enough so that this should not present a problem.

Installation is easy. The manual explains what files it copies to the hard disk, for those of us who care about such things. A "complete" installation, which copies the entire dictionary to the computer's hard disk, requires 30 MB of disk space. The documentation recommends this, pointing out that this speeds up queries. Although this is true, it is hardly necessary: I use this dictionary on one of my older PCs, which has a 4x4 CD-ROM changer, and I find the speed satisfactory. CD-ROM readers with speeds up to 40x can be purchased today for under $100.00. The only real advantage to a complete installation is that this makes it possible to annotate dictionary entries.

The dictionary includes a very comprehensive on-line help system, which, by itself, could be the subject of a separate review. However, I find the user interface of this dictionary so intuitive that I have almost never felt the need to look at the on-line help.

The search software offers four search functions, which are called "Suche 1", "Suche 2", "Suche 3", and "Suche 4". "Suche 1" performs a full-text search in both the German-English and the English-German dictionaries. Obviously, the hits in the opposite language directions will often duplicate one another: if we search for beschleunigen, the dictionary will present us with both "accelerate v beschleunigen" and "beschleunigen v accelerate". However, this function is useful to find a term which might be present in one direction but not in the other. "Suche 2" searches for English key words which contain the sought-after term. That is, searching for force will return not only the entry force and phrases beginning with force (force constant, force density, etc.), but also phrases such as Coriolis force, etc. "Suche 3" searches for German key words which contain the sought-after term as a separate word (with a space or hyphen separating it). That is, it will find abstoßende Kraft and Coriolis-Kraft, as well as Kraft zwischen Quarks, but it will not find Kraftkonstante. Of course, it is possible to find words like Kraftkonstante in addition to those previously mentioned by searching for Kraft*, where the asterisk represents a wild card. "Suche 4" allows searching for terms which are either key words or translations and using Boolean logical operators such as "and", "or", etc. However, the functions "Suche 2" and "Suche 3" offer some Boolean capabilities (see below) and are powerful enough that they usually suffice.

The search functions have a number of very nice features. The most obvious one to the user is what I would describe as "search term completion", due to its resemblance to the "filename completion" feature of some of the UNIX shells (some web browsers offer a similar feature): As the user types a search string, the program is already looking up the term, and it tries to guess what the user is typing. Say, for example, I want to look up Kraftdichte. I type the letter "k", and immediately the letters "abel" appear after the "k" to form the word Kabel, which is the first word in the dictionary beginning with "k". If I wanted to look up Kabel, I would only need to press the "Enter" key twice (once to accept the guessed search string and once to search for it), and the search routine would display the entries for Kabel. However, I want to look up Kraftdichte, so I have to keep typing: The automatically typed letters "abel" are "selected", so that they are overwritten by the next letter that I type. If I type a letter "r" after the "k", then the "abel" disappears, and "ackverfahren" appears, to form Krackverfahren, which is the first word in the dictionary beginning with "Kr", and when I type as far as "Kraftd", then "ichte" appears, to complete the word Kraftdichte. Now I only have to press "Enter" twice to see the entries for this term. This description may be confusing, but it is obvious how it works once the user has used it once or twice. This feature is very convenient and user-friendly.

Another very nice feature is that Boolean "and" searches (which are almost the only Boolean searches that users ever want to perform, at least in this type of dictionary) can be performed in "Suche 2" and "Suche 3" simply by typing one word, then a space, and then a second word. Toward the bottom of the dialog box two lines appear showing the number of "hits" for each of the two words typed, and to the right of the two lines is a number indicating the number of hits which contain both words. It is not necessary to type any special symbols ("&", etc.) to perform Boolean searches in this way. Hyphenated German words are searched for in the same way, using a space instead of a hyphen. For example, if I type "Coriolis" then a space, and then "Kraft", the first line shows two hits for "Coriolis" and the second line shows 75 hits for "Kraft", and one hit for both of them together. To display "Coriolis-Kraft", I simply press "Enter" twice.

Screen shot of search 3 dialog box showing search for the two terms coriolis and kraft, and how the dialog box displays the number of matches for each of the two terms and the number of matches for both terms.

One minor annoyance of the dictionary is that the search string is typed into a large dialog box which disappears when the hits are displayed (it has to disappear, since it is so big that otherwise it would obstruct too much of the screen), rather than into a small field which can continue to be displayed together with the hits. Since the input field disappears, the user has to click on the "Suche 3" button again (or on some other button) to perform the next search. The previous search string is cleared, so if the user wishes to search for a similarly spelled word, it is necessary to retype the entire word (although typing is facilitated by the "search string completion" feature described above).

Another shortcoming of this dictionary's search engine, which I have seen in the search engine of every CD-ROM dictionary I have every used, is that it is unable to handle initial wild cards in an intelligent manner. That is, if I know every letter in a word except for the first, and type, for example, "?oriolis" (the "?" is a single-letter wild card character), the search engine takes too long to find "Coriolis". Using the variable-length wild card character "*" takes even longer, a ridiculously long time. A separate search index should be provided which the search engine can use to look words up backwards when an initial wild card is used. This is an obvious desideratum which would be very straightforward to implement, and it is amazing that we have not seen it yet. Keep in mind that this shortcoming is not peculiar to this dictionary, but rather is a general shortcoming of currently available CD-ROM dictionaries.

Since the dictionary is on CD-ROM, it is difficult to judge the percentage of "filler" words, although it appears to be quite good at excluding them. A few examples of terms it lacks: Bier, Haus, Garten, Hund, laufen, PKW, sein, Universität. I did not find any words which definitely did not belong in such a dictionary. I found some which are borderline, which I probably also would have included if I were writing such a dictionary: schreiben, Sonne, Telephon, Wand.

Apparently Greek letters are always handled by spelling them out. This has the advantage of simplicity and avoids code-page problems. But it does require that the user know the names of the Greek letters and how to spell them.

The dictionary does include the part of speech (n, v, adj) and the gender of all German nouns, which is sometimes helpful for German-English translators. (Gender is not provided for nouns if the noun is part of an adjectival phrase, but the gender is clear from the form of the adjective, so this is sensible.) However, there are almost no subject or usage labels, such as those used in Ernst, to steer the user to the right term for a particular context. I consider this to be the biggest shortcoming of this otherwise excellent dictionary.

Another shortcoming which this dictionary presents for translators (less so for physicists) is that the translations include seldom-used terms and terms which are not recommended. Since the translations for a term seem to be listed in alphabetical order (more on this below), and especially since there are almost no subject or usage labels (see above), this means that the first definition given is sometimes wholly inappropriate. For example, the definitions for Dichte are, in order: "denseness; density; specific density". Clearly, the first definition should be "density", and "denseness" should not be included; personally, I would also exclude "specific density".

Returning for a moment to the order of the translations for a given term, which I alluded to above, the alphabetical order of the translations is not helpful to the user, since s/he will not know what word s/he is trying to find. However, in all fairness to the authors of this dictionary, this appears to be a stumbling block for all dictionary editors. The order of definitions which is used in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary is historical (!), that is the oldest meaning is given first. The editors of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1976) use what they describe as a "psychologically meaningful order" (!!). I consider the best order to be the statistical frequency of usage, with the most frequently used term coming first.

This dictionary does not contain any other encyclopedic information, such as explanations of the terms, nor does it contain appendices, illustrations, or tables. These are of less use to translators than to physicists. However, it would be highly desirable if terms representing concepts with precise meanings included their units of measurement. For example, translators sometimes have difficulty distinguishing concepts such as resistance and resistivity or thermal conductance and thermal conductivity: if the SI units were provided translators could be certain that the translation chosen is truly an equivalent.

On the whole, this dictionary's content is good, and it is very easy to use. I occasionally find myself reaching for Ernst to look up words I cannot find in this dictionary or whose definitions I find unsatisfactory. But, on the whole I recommend it to German technical translators.

I feel that it deserves a rating of "very good". At the very least, subject and usage labels have to be added to the translations before it can be given an "excellent" rating; we expect them in the next edition.

Please send comments to thomas AT hedden DOT org.

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