Ergonomic, ergonomics, er-GONE-omist, ergo-NO-mist…or, maybe, just plain “ergo”

Imagine this scene: A multidisciplinary team is gathered for a meeting to discuss an important initiative, one that should have a significant impact on the organisation. The problem at hand has been affecting productivity, quality, employee morale, and has been associated with costly injuries. People are interested. A manager arrives with the consultant who has been selected to lead the much-anticipated project, and introduces her as the “ergo-NO-mist” who is going to support this project.

Of course, this scene typically proceeds with a stumbling discussion around the strangely different pronunciation of the words “ergonomist” (er-GONE-uhm-mist) and “ergonomics” (ergo-NOM-ics). This discussion is a bit humiliating for both the ergo professional, and the manager who mispronounced her title. It starts us off on the wrong foot.

This problem leads many ergonomists to take on the title of “Consultant.” But therein begins a similar conversation. Should this professional be called an “Ergonomics Consultant” or an “Ergonomic Consultant”?

Those of us who are grammar fanatics will jump in to assert that the consultant herself is not “ergonomic”, but rather, is concerned with the field of “ergonomics”. The same rules apply in the field of economics; one would hire an economist, and would expect him to write an economics report, which might suggest economic changes. The word “ergonomic” implies a better fit with a human….the consultant herself is not “ergonomic”. The equipment she recommends is.

Our professional association, the “Association of Canadian Ergonomists” published a blog in December, 2016, to try to set the country’s ergonomists straight. They wrote:

“The words ergonomic and ergonomics look similar so it is easy to mix them up. Here’s a trick I use to help me make the right choice. I find it helpful to think of another word pair that is similar in meaning to ergonomic and ergonomics but rarely mixed up (e.g. usable and usability). If usability makes more sense in what you are trying to say, ergonomics is the word you need. 

So back to our initial example using this word pair…..Is it a usable assessment or a usability assessment? Though we would like everything to be usable (and ergonomic), what we are most likely talking about is a usability assessment.”

Thus, we ought to refer to Ergonomics Consultants, reports, guidelines, standards, and programs. But you may see the term ergonomic applied to tools, chairs, and a variety of other creatively marketed gadgets. (Are they “ergonomic”? Well, that’s another blog topic altogether!!)

At Taylor’d Ergo, we call ourselves “Ergonomists”, because, for many of our clients, we provide the type of ongoing support that a staff ergonomist would provide; the term “Consultant” seems too temporary. We write ergonomics reports, publish ergonomics guidelines, and suggest ergonomic improvements which sometimes involve ergonomic tools, devices, chairs, etc.. And we’ve become accustomed to good-heartedly leading the discussion on the odd pronunciation for a field that is supposed to make life easier for people.

We admit that we shorten the term whenever we have the opportunity. Amongst friends and clients, we call ourselves “Taylor’d Ergo”, we schedule ergo visits, we run ergo training, we write ergo reports, and we support ergo changes. The beauty of the English language, I’m told, is that it can change over time. We would love for the friendly term “ergo” to be used more universally – to make it easy for everyone to start off on the right foot.

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