The importance of being Ernst

At the European Patent Office most dictionaries are too general for the demands of interpreting, but Ernst’s Dictionary of Engineering and Technology is a real treasure.

I work regularly for the European Patent Office, where interpreters are required for patent hearings in the three official languages: English, German and French. You can readily imagine that the subject matter is very technical at times, but most of the regulars swear by their little helper, the Ernst technical dictionary.

Dictionaries are often too general for our needs or they list the obvious words and don’t have those we need to look up. However Ernst’s Dictionary of Engineering and Technology is a real treasure. Although it was first published in 1951, it is still about the best general technical dictionary I’ve encountered.

Generally I am not a great collector of dictionaries, or convinced of the usefulness of long terminology lists. Reading around the subject in English is often the best preparation for me. After all language exists in context, and lists and dictionaries to some extent eliminate context.

Be that as it may, when you are working at a meeting on cars and they talk about a camshaft, you’ve just got to know it. And Ernst usually comes up trumps. It is a no-frills science and technology dictionary; even the cover is plain.

Rarely does it let you down when you look up a technical word. It is particularly strong on what I would call the older technologies, stuff like cars, mining, coal and steel, textiles – all technologies that developed in their respective languages.

I generally use the German to English volume, but Ernst now covers a range of languages. It is also available on CD so you can store it on your laptop.

Dictionary of Science and Technology, Dr.-Ing Richard Ernst, Oscar Brandstetter Verlag

Recommended citation format:
Philip H. D. SMITH. "The importance of being Ernst". February 14, 2003. Accessed June 6, 2020. <>.