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The word term refers to the meaning of a designation or idea . A term forms a semantic unit that is part of a proposition or a thought . A defined term content can have a different designation (its designation) in each language or be identified by a symbol or have a code as an identifier (compare Wikidata ).

In everyday language and in certain technical languages , “term” is also used vaguely for the linguistic designation (for a word or expression ) instead of for its meaning. The demarcation of terms from words or expressions as external linguistic units and from conceptions or ideas as internal, purely mental units is often blurred in everyday use and in various technical languages ​​- depending on the perspective: sometimes the term is understood as a "mental information unit" or has the same meaning as “ Concept ” in the sense of the premodern philosophical tradition.

A term can also be understood as a “ lexicalized concept” (compare encyclopedia ), in which case the word (as a lemma ) and the concept (as the mental representation of a single object or a cognitive category ) are meant at the same time . In everyday language and beyond, the word “term” is often incorrectly used for a designation, ie for a word or a group of words.

The investigation of terms in various sciences, such as psychology , neurosciences, linguistics , approaches of formal knowledge representation (especially formal concept analysis ) and disciplines of philosophy ( logic , epistemology , semiotics ) often focuses on different aspects of the term «concept». In the cultural and historical studies are in the history of the concept of the importance of change and the change in the conceptual relationships of expressions historically studied, in contrast to the history of ideas , which (also regardless of their names) deals with ideas and concepts.

In structuralism , the content page of a sign is called a signified . Depending on the theory of meaning, this is understood as a concept , meaning or sense , to which the expression side of a sign, called a signifier , refers by means of sounds or letters . In a simple reading, a signified thus also corresponds to a concept, which is represented in the semiotic triangle as a mediation between designation and what is designated; As the meaning of the symbol, a term establishes its relation to the reference object .

Word origin

The verb to grasp can be traced back to the 8th century ( Old High German bigrīfan , Middle High German to mean ), the original meaning was “grasp, encompass”. An expansion of meaning already begins in Old High German, with the use as a translation of the Latin comprehendere ("to understand"). In texts of mystical theology in particular, the expression is used in a broader sense, in that physical "grasping, grasping" is extended to spiritual grasping as "grasping, understanding with the mind".

The noun term is used as concept (Middle High German and early New High German concept or concept ) already in Middle High German with the meaning "scope, district". Later, its meaning was carried over analogously to the verb on "presentation". The word comes into use in the 18th century in particular by Christian Thomasius and Christian Wolff . During the Enlightenment, its meaning was narrowed down to “general concept” and used to translate “idea”. Finally, in philosophical terminology, “concept” and “idea” are differentiated from one another.

The adjective comprehensible , with its current meaning “understandable”, arose from the Middle High German conceptual (“comprehensible, easy to grasp, comprehending”). In contrast, conceptual , with the meaning “relating to a term, a conceptual unit”, is derived from the noun. The adjective stumpy ("clumsy to understand, difficult to understand") emerged in the mid-19th century.

Superordinate and subordinate concepts

A “superordinate term” lies in a hierarchical system of terms on a higher level and combines several terms from another level. A “subordinate term” is at a lower level in a hierarchical system of terms.

A generic term is a superordinate term that is based on abstraction relationships within the conceptual system. For example, “vehicle” is a generic term for “land vehicle, watercraft and aircraft”. Analogously, a sub-concept is a subordinate concept where there are abstraction relationships within the concept system. For example, “car” is a sub-term of “vehicle”.

An “association term” is a superordinate term in a different sense: It is based on the fact that existing relationships exist within the underlying system of terms. For example, “Europe” is an association term for “France, Switzerland and Italy”. This conceptual relationship is called meronymy in linguistics .

Name and subject

Terms mediate between objects and names for them, this is traditionally illustrated in the semiotic triangle :

Level of representation
The naming and definition of a term
Conceptual level
The term with its characteristics
Object level
Multiple items with certain common properties

Terms and the relationships that connect them (equivalence, hierarchy, etc.) play a decisive role in information retrieval and in the development of the so-called " Semantic Web ".

See also


  • Albert Newen : The Unexplained Nature of Concepts: An Analysis of the Ontological Discussion. In: Proceedings of the GAP. 5. Fifth International Congress of the Society for Analytical Philosophy, Bielefeld 22. – 26. September 2003. pp. 419–434 ( PDF: 168 kB, 16 pages at gap5.de).

Web links

Wiktionary: Term  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Compare, for example, Eric Margolis, Stephen Laurence:  Concepts. In: Edward N. Zalta (Ed.): Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy . : Concepts, pretheoretically, are the constituents of thoughts. But see also the following brief overview of controversial recent positions on the ontology of concepts: in addition to the - classically widely customary - conception as elements of propositions, i.e. as abstracts, concepts are also understood as skills or as mental representations.
  2. Monika Schwarz, Jeannette Chur: Semantics: A work book. 4th edition. Narr, Tübingen 2004. p. 219 ( page preview in the Google book search).
  3. Sebastian Löbner : Term dictionary semantics In: user.phil.hhu.de. 2015, accessed on April 20, 2020 (summary from his book Semantics: An Introduction 2012).
  4. a b c sentence after Friedrich Kluge : Etymological dictionary of the German language . Volume 1. Edited by Elmar Seebold . 24th, revised and expanded edition. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2002, ISBN 3-11-017473-1 , Lemma: "understand".
  5. a b c d sentence after Wilhelm Braun , Wolfgang Pfeifer : Etymological Dictionary of German. Central Institute for Linguistics of the Academy of Sciences of the GDR . Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1989, Lemma: "understand".
  6. Wolfgang G. Stock : Concepts and semantic relations in the knowledge representation. In: Information - Science and Practice. Volume 60, No. 8, 2009, pp. 403-420, here p. 403 ( PDF: 812 kB, 18 pages on phil-fak.uni-duesseldorf.de).