4 May /17

The first dictionary of technology in German, French, and English

From A as in “Awl” to Z as in “Zymotechnology”
The first technological dictionary in German, French, and English

An original copy of the first edition of a Technological Dictionary of the German, French, and English Languages can be seen at EVS Translations office
An original copy of the first edition of a Technological Dictionary of the German, French, and English Languages can be seen at EVS Translations Offenbach office

The first entry in the “Technologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen, französischen und englischen Sprache” (Technological Dictionary of the German, French, and English Languages) is a simple tool, the sole purpose of which is to poke holes in a plethora of materials: “Aale” (now spelled “Ahle”) in German. In French, it is called l‘alêne or la pointe, and in English it is an awl or a pricker. This early technical dictionary of terms from trade, physics, nautical science, mining, mineralogy, and “other mechanical and industrial sciences” was released in 1853 as the first of its kind by Christian Wilhelm Kreidel’s publishing company in Wiesbaden, Germany.

In response to the lack of conformity in the technical terminology of the three major languages of German, English, and French, as well as the prevailing disagreement between practitioners, Johann Adam Beil wrote a dictionary that simplified “the study of technical documents in a foreign language” with one stroke (see foreword). Having been trained as a cooper, or barrel-maker, he was virtually predestined for the task. As the son of a family of craftsmen, he opened his own wine shop in 1815 after returning from the campaign against France. Ten years later, he discovered an interest in politics and became a senator in 1826. While in office, he was responsible for a number of projects, including the building of Frankfurt Main Cemetery. Besides eleven properties on Frankfurt’s Hochstrasse, he also owned a model farm, where one of the first steam mills was located in 1833. On his many travels, Beil discovered his growing love for the railroad, which he owed to his position as director of the Taunus-Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (Taunus Railway Company) starting in 1840. Throughout his lifetime, the visionary always kept up with the latest trends, putting him in the middle of things when the German economy had its boom. The increasing significance of economic relations and languages in the field of technology had its start in the Industrial Revolution, which began in England in the second half of the 18th century and spilled over to western Europe and the US in the 19th century. Thanks to the flood of new inventions, production output increased, making cross-border partnerships indispensable.

Beil did not live to see the publication of his important work for lexicography. The director of the Taunus railroad died one year prior at the age of 61 in Frankfurt am Main, the city where he was born. The native of Frankfurt closes out his dictionary of technology with the entry “zymotechnology,” a fermentation technique used in both the distilling of brandy and the brewing of beer, thereby making a valuable contribution to the advancement of the translator profession with his collection of technical terms.

An original copy of the first edition can be seen at EVS Translations Offenbach office, as part of EVS Translations Book Museum.