Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I was helping a friend evaluate his bike the other day. His bike had some problems. Among them was a tight headset. I told him it was notched. "Here. Feel it," I said as I showed him how to swing the bars and feel the notched sensation.
Some other cyclists were nearby and one of them piped up with the jewel of all bicycling knowledge, "It's called brinelling."
I'm very familiar with the term, but I've chosen not to use it. If I'm talking to someone who isn't familiar with the word and I use it, then I've also got to explain it and even enunciate it in a pedantic, exaggerated way, because most people want to say, "brindling."
If instead I say it's notched and let them feel it, they understand perfectly and immediately. Then we can move on to other things.
Generally, I prefer common usage of the language. If a term isn't well known and another term that means the same thing is well known, then I'll use the well-known term. I think this approach should be called, "looking for easy synonyms."

I've done some reading about brinelling and may write a little history of the term, but you probably won't hear me use it to discuss worn bicycle headsets.

The guy in the photo is Johan August Brinell.

4 comments:

KM said...

Brinelling is ubiquitous.

AdamB said...

Okay, what's a "synonym"? You surely must have some sort of baseline expectations about your audience's vocabulary.

As for me, I like to err on the side of expecting more from my audience, so as not to talk down to them. Suppose your guy really did know what brinelling is. Then he might resent your condescension?

Not to say that you're wrong, but there is a balance to be struck here.

rigtenzin said...

If I was in the company of bike mechanic people, I'd probably use brinell. But as this was a real situation, I was pretty sure he wasn't familiar with it. The others who overheard were not my intended audience.

adamb: I agree, know your audience.

this verdant country said...

I think that term is misleading, even if the audience understands the (erroneous) usage in relation to headsets. I think that term should be banished from notchy headset discussions, not because novices might not understand, but because it's the wrong word.

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