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Dr Klaus Bung
68 Brantfell Road
Blackburn BB1-8DL

© 2010 Klaus Bung

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it

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Klaus Bung:
Technical terms in ordinary English
Part 2: source, target, sourcing, outsourcing, stimulus, response

Most technical terms in English are derived from ordinary English. You can use technical terms more competently if you know their basic meanings and how they are used in ordinary language. Today we will explore some terms which are used in several disciplines, including in the discussion of techniques for learning foreign languages: source and target, aiming and targeting, targets in studying, business, shooting, source of water, information, supplies, sourcing and outsourcing, and more about stimulus and response psychology. Read more below.

2010-09-16 Technical terms in ordinary English, Part 2

Target language

The expression "language he wants to learn" is rather long and cumbersome. A shorter expression would be "target language" because the student is AIMING at that language.

In many contexts, the opposite of "target" is "source". So the mother tongue could be called "source language", and the foreign language could be called "target language".

Targets to aim at

target board with arrowIn shooting practice you aim at a target.

Businesses and governments set targets of what they want to achieve. A business makes a business plan and says how big they want their turnover to be in one year's time, in two years' time and in five years' time.

Schools set targets for their pupils: 80% should pass a certain exam with Grade B.

DYLL sets very precise targets: After revision X has taken place, the student will remember 90% of his words (etc) when the next revision is due.

Targeting for attack

If a politician is regularly attacked by the press, we say that she has become a target (noun) for attack, or that "she has been targeted (verb)" by the press. So "target" can be used as a noun or as a verb, or even as an adjective:

Targets in plans


  • My target (noun) is an annual income of £30,000.
  • If you want to undermine the Minister for the Protection of Hedgehogs (sadly, no such minister exists in the UK), you have to target (verb) his private life.
  • My starting speed in typing is 60 words per minute; my target speed is 95 w.p.m. (adjective)

Shooting example

If you are learning to shoot and your target is a clay pigeon (a pigeon made of clay, to be used for shooting practice), you can say: "I aim at the pigeon", but you can NOT say: "I target the pigeon".

You can say "I target" only when you are interested in a whole group of people (or animals) and are waiting for an opportunity to attack them, and do so whenever there is a chance.

So usually after "I target" you have a noun in the plural.

The police are targeting fast drivers, drunken drivers, burglars in inner cities but not in villages, illegal immigrants, etc.

But you can say correctly: "The MOON AND STRIPES, a fictitious newspaper, is targeting the Home Secretary", if the newspaper is watching him, waiting for him to make a mistake, and uses each such opportunity to attack him because of any little mistake he makes.

So when you "aim" at a burglar (singular), then you are about to shoot. When you "target" the Home Secretary (singular), you are waiting for an opportunity to shoot. You can target burglars (plural) if you are waiting for any of them and hope to photograph them with a camera hidden in your garden.

Somebody asks you: "Why have you installed this camera in your garden?" You answer: "I am targeting burglars, not mice."


"Source" is often used as the opposite of "target", but this does not work in all contexts.

If you copy or move a computer file from folder D:/ to folder E:/, then D:/ is your source folder, and E:/ is your target folder. The file goes FROM the SOURCE folder and moves TO the TARGET folder.

Another word for the target folder (or more often: target directory) is "destination folder" (or more often: destination directory).

If I travel from Glasgow to London, then London is my destination.

So now let's have a look at "source". Its most basic meaning is associated with water. The source is the beginning of a river. At the source, the water comes out of the ground, then it becomes a stream (very small), which then turns into a river (much larger).

  • The source of the river Nile is where? It has, so to speak, two sources.
    That of the White Nile is in Ruanda,
    that of the Blue Nile is in Ethiopia.
  • The source of the river Amazon is in the Andes.
  • The source of the river Yangtse is in the Qinghai province in China.
  • The source of the river Mississipi is in Minnesota, USA.
  • The source of the river Ganges is in the Himalayas.
  • The source of the River Thames (which flows through London) is in Gloucestershire
  • The source of the River Rhine is in the Alps.

These sentences provide you with a nice set of pairs (see what we said above), and you could, of course, use the DYLL procedures to learn them. These procedures do not only apply to vocabulary, but also to idioms, phrases, sentence fragments and grammatical examples, and any kind of quiz information (consisting of real questions and answers).

(river, location of source):
(White Nile, Ruanda), (Blue Nile, Ethiopia), (Amazon, Andes), (Yangtse, Qinghai province in China), (Mississipi, Minnesota), (Ganges, Himalayas), (Thames, Gloucestershire), (Rhine, Alps)

In more general terms, the source is "where something comes FROM":

  • from / to
  • source / target
  • start / finish

Sources of information

Journalists receive information from other people or from documents. These are their "sources of information". Journalists are entitled to protect their sources of information, i.e. they need not and must not say who told them the things they write.

When you quote something in writing that you have read in a book, a magazine or on the Internet, then you must give your source, i.e. must write down the name of the author, the title of the book, the year of publication, and the page from which you copied that information. Then your readers can go to the source and look up that information and study it further.

If you copy information without giving the source and pretend you yourself have written this text, it is called stealing of information or plagiarism.

Sources of goods and services in business

Supermarkets buy their goods from farmers and other producers. They have suppliers. My suppliers are the people who sell me something. My suppliers are my sources.

Source of supply

When you want to buy something in large quantities or on a regular basis, it is important that you find a good supplier, one who can deliver at a good price, high quality, punctually, reliably. You are looking for a supplier, for a source.

If you buy your goods in China, you are "sourcing" your goods in China. "Sourcing" as a verb is a fairly new word, but now very common.

"Sourcing" is not a very good word, but it is a buzz word, a fashionable word, and people use it without thinking or because they want to show off. It would be much simpler to say, in plain old English: "I get my goods from China", or "I buy my goods in China", or "I import them from China". It is good enough if you say that, but you MUST understand when other people use the buzz word "outsourcing" or offer "outsourcing services".


In the past, big companies tried to provide all their services themselves. They employed their own telephonists, their own bookkeepers, they repaired their own cars and lorries, they had their own builders to repair their buildings.

Similarly the government employed the people who repaired the roads and their buildings, official cars, etc.

During the last few decades, many organisations decided to hand over many specialist functions to outsiders.


The government no longer employs computer specialists directly, but gives a big contract to a computer company. That company has to employ the people who do the work. The government no longer has to deal with thousands of employees, suffer when they go on strike, organise how to pay each of them, but only has to go to that one computer company (the contractor) and say "Fix it" and give them the agreed amount of money, say once every month. That is much easier than having to deal with hundreds or thousands of computer programmers and database specialists individually, calculate their wages, check whether they are coming to work and paying each of them individually. If there are problems, these are not the government's problems but the contractor's problems.

The government has "outsourced" its computer services.

to out-source = to give a task to an outside organisation rather than doing it yourself. This is a fairly new verb, now in common use.

A large contractor which does a lot of work for the British government, from building maintenance to computer services, and a great variety of other things is a company called CAPITA.

Call centre work and secretarial work which used to be done in England is now often outsourced to India, or to Ireland or to Scotland, for various reasons (cost, accent etc).

Source language

Coming back to languages, when translating from English into Arabic, you could say that English is the source language (the original language) and Arabic is the target language.

Stimulus / response

Now we look at our language pairs with psychological terminology: stimulus / response

pointed stake lying on lawn boot with spurs
The word "stimulus" comes from Greek and Latin, where it is something like a pointed stake, used to fend off advancing troups. It is also used for the spurs of a horse rider.

In English this word is used in a figurative sense (non-literal sense) for anything that causes a person or an animal to react.

In general English, the verb "to stimulate" and "stimulating" are more common than "stimulus".

You can have

  • a stimulating discussion with someone, a discussion that causes you to think along new lines,
  • you can listen to a stimulating lecture.

If it is stimulating, then it is interesting, and somewhat more than interesting. It is certainly not dull. On the contrary.

A doctor can give you a medicine which stimulates certain organs, which starts them working, or makes them become more active.

If you are not hungry and are not eating enough to maintain your body weight, you can do something to stimulate your appetite.

Certain drugs which make your brain more active are called "stimulants". Coffee is a well-known stimulant. Alcohol, by contrast, is considered a "depressant", because it slows down your brain.

You can live in a stimulating environment, one which is interesting and gives you many new ideas. If it is boring, it is the very opposite of stimulating.

Norbert Wiener, the father of cybernetics, who will again be mentioned below, is described in his obituary as follows:

"As a human being Wiener was above all stimulating. I have known some who found the stimulus unwelcome. He could offend publicly by snoring through a lecture and then asking an awkward question in the discussion, and also privately by proffering information and advice on some field remote from his own to an august dinner companion. I like to remember Wiener as I once saw him late at night in Magdalen College, Oxford, surrounded by a spellbound group of undergraduates, talking, endlessly talking. We are all the poorer that he now talks no more. (David George Kendall for Wiener's obituary in The Times ") (Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Norbert_Wiener)

Stimulus in psychology

In psychological experiments, the subjects (= persons), also called (human) "guinea pigs", are given a stimulus, and the experimenter then observes and records how they respond to that stimulus, i.e. what the do after having received the stimulus.

A famous psychologist who conducted many such experiments was B F Skinner.

In psychological experiments, the subjects (people) could be shown a picture, or asked a question. That was the stimulus.

They might respond by pushing a button, or saying something, or their responses might be in the body, and the experimenter measures whether they start sweating, or their heart beats faster, when they see the picture of a beautiful woman, or a woman with red hair, blond hair or black hair.

So what causes the person to act is the stimulus, and what the person then does is the response.

More about stimulus response psychology:

Stimulus and response in language learning

In the DYLL exercises, the word in your native language can be regarded as the stimulus, and the foreign word you are supposed to say is the response.

In the top line of these exercises we have the stimulus and in the bottom line we have the "model response", the correct response which you should imitate and learn.

To be continued in Part 3 on 15 Sep 2010 - Watch this space!

Teachers tell you what to learn, IDYLL shows you how to learn it