What’s in a name? That which we call D&T.

Paul Woodward
29th March 2016 at 15:00

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, What's in a name? That which we call D&T

Today’s blog is a departure from the subjects of late and a little light academic reading (is there such a thing) on the subject of ‘words’. Fascinating things words, made up of little tiny characters. Lots of them are then strung together like bunting with spaces in between to make sentences and paragraphs; just like this blog. ‘Word’ itself being Old English, of Germanic origin; related to the Dutch woord, German wort and Old Norse waurd meaning “speak, say”.

Now I bet you never knew that, unless of course you happen to have combined your DT studies with Etymology.

You have likely uttered or heard the words ‘Design and Technology’ thousands of times in your life but have you ever wondered exactly what those words mean? Like one of those text based adventure books from the 1980’s, if the answer is no then turn to page 127 but if it’s yes then you can happily read on…

The word design originates from the 1500’s and the Latin designare meaning ‘to mark out, devise, choose, designate’ before being adapted by the French to desseign meaning ‘purpose or project’. In the 1600’s the word designer was attributed to ‘one who schemes’ or ‘one who makes an artistic design or a construction plan’. Since then the term has been used denote a profession (as in fashion designer) or as an adjective to describe something typically unique or expensive such as ‘designer clothing’. The modern definition is ‘an agent that specifies the structural properties of a design object’ or ‘a person who plans the look or workings of something prior to it being made, by preparing drawings or plans’.

While this is quite close to the original meaning of the word designer you can’t help but wonder if the definition defined the role or vice versa.

I find it strange how nearly all professions precede the word designer with their specialism such as interior designer yet we don’t have building designers. No, for some reason, probably historical, they are called architects; a term derived from the Greek arki meaning chief and tekton meaning builder which later became architetto (Italian) and architecte (French) in the mid 16th Century.

Perhaps more tenuous is the use of the word technology which comes from the Greek word tekhne meaning art, craft, skill, cunning of hand and the work -logia. This became tekhnologia meaning systematic treatment. The English adopted the word and took the arts and craft element before adding the –logy which is strangely defined as ‘dull and heavy in motion or thought’.  It has since come to mean ‘denoting a subject of study or interest with an -ology being a subject of study; a branch of knowledge.

So, by that definition, Technology is art and craft which is dull and heavy in motion which perhaps describes knitting better more than our understanding of the word. Today, technology is defined as the collection of techniques, skills, methods and processes used in the production of goods or services or in the accomplishment of objectives, such as scientific investigation. Quite a leap there and strange how many of us tend to view technology and craft as opposite ends of the creative spectrum.

To close, if you can take any more, a few more D&T related words.

Chef, for the food technologists (sorry, food and nutritionists) literally means ‘head’ (French early 19th Century). Bear that in mind during the next food lesson.

Graphics comes from the Greek word graphe meaning ‘writing, drawing’ then graphikos via Latin before becoming graphic in the mid 17th Century.

Product comes from the Latin producere meaning ‘bring forth’, then productum which combined with the English produce became simply product, and more recently defined as ‘an article or substance that is manufactured or refined for sale’. Yes, that about covers it.

Sadly no definition of Resistant Materials could be found as to this day no one really know what on earth it means and that’s one term that likely won’t be missed. Perhaps in thousands of years historians will dig the words up on a discarded text book and scratch their heads just as we have been doing for years…

Of course, none of this makes a jot of difference to what Design and Technology in the classroom actually involves but it’s interesting to see how the words have been truncated and spliced in order to arrive at the definitions we understand, or think we do, today. Hopefully this has given you a little food for thought for the day, or at least cured your insomnia!

For the record, blog is simply an abbreviation of weblog which is a much more recent word coined in the internet age of the 1990’s and therefore devoid of any interesting origin story. I think we had better leave it there.

The -endus (Latin).


Paul Woodward has been a teacher of DT for 22 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of Faculty, qualified to MA level and an examiner and moderator of Resistant Materials for the AQA.