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 May 20, 2019. <>.

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Iris Hensel


Another excellent technical dictionary (100.000 entries) is the series by Graham P. Oxtoby, published by Kluwer. It is very much like the Ernst but for Dutch-English and English-Dutch. He also edited a French and German series, also with 100.000 entries each way. I believe this author is currently preparing a much more extensive new dictionary (EN-DU/DU-EN) with 125.000 terms each way to be published coming September/October. I've had a sneak preview and it's fabulous. It will also be available on CDROM on the UNILEX platform by Acolada Germany. UNILEX (the dictionary software platform) is free at

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Danfei Gao


Is there an English-English (with explanations in English) version for this dictionary?

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Vincent Buck


I would strongly recommend Termium to anyone working into FR/EN. I'm using the 2001 edition. It beats Ernst flat out on several counts:

- much better coverage of recent scientific progress (bioengineering, etc)

- Outstanding contextualisation of entries, with excerpts from publications where the entries were found.

- 3.000.000 entries

I still use Ernst for DE/FR though.

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Anneliese Mosch Pinto


I also use it a lot, the German-Portuguese version. But I think it could be modernized... I work as a translator (German/Port) in the automoblie sector and am organizing my own dict. I could make it available - but I'm still working on it.

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Helen Schneider


I agree entirely with Phil here - there's nothing to beat Ernst, except a couple or three of them. There's a whole code of practice nowadays as to its use - for example, this first thing you do ahead of the meeting is check with your boothmate which tomes he/she will be taking so that you can avoid any duplication - a wise move as these are heavy beasts. Secondly, acquire appropriate transportation - I now have a neat little rucksack on wheels (the envy of many colleagues here in Paris) thanks to which I can whizz my dictionaries, bottles of mineral water, kleenex, healthy nibbles (apples, tangerines, bananas), filofax, photo of the cat, etc to my place of work. It does happen however that occasionally the Ernst(s) are not needed (the speaker is going too fast or it's all in English anyway), and then you can discover the last good use of the Ernst which is to whip it out your bag, put it on that silly little folding chair they put in makeshift booths and SIT on it (or them) - at least that way, you have a good view of the back of the participants' heads. The CD-ROM version pales into insignificance...

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