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This question is more philology than engineering.

As a non native speaker, I am looking for a word in english to describe a tool that has reached its perfection. So it is a synonym for "perfection", but in context of tool development. Another synonym for that is "utopic", but I think it is used more to describe something non-materialistic, like a social way.
But "utopic" is the word which I would intuitively use in this case. So it should stand for a tool which solves specific task and with time becomes 'single' and cannot be improved further, simply because nothing better can exist in principle.

Simple examples for utopic things:

  • A ball bearing: one can experiment with materials, number of balls, but the principle will be always the same, no matter how far the human knowledge will develop.
  • A drill bit: one can use different sizes, materials, configuration, but the principle stays the same.

Question: How such a thing can be called in english? Probably some recommendation for reading about similar things as described above?

I must say I don't know such a word in my native language as well, so I would use a derivative of the word "utopic".

migrated from engineering.stackexchange.com Apr 26 '16 at 21:56

This question came from our site for professionals and students of engineering.

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    I am not sure I would call any tool perfect. Perhaps you are looking for tools which are ubiquitous, in other words, found everywhere? Or tools which are optimal? As an example: at room temperature you'd use less expensive steel ball bearings, at 1200 C you'd use more expensive silicon nitride which will survive. Both are optimal for their intended use, but if one were perfect, surely it would be used in both cases? Keep in mind as engineers, cost is a very important parameter for in defining optimality. – wwarriner Apr 26 '16 at 18:30
  • @starrise I see, it is obvious, one can take different materials, for slightly different tasks, but the principle stays the same, and it is kind of independant from technical advantage. – Mikhail V Apr 26 '16 at 20:37
  • In other words, if I travel in time, or meet very advanced extra terrestial race, almost sure, they will use same tools for specific tasks. – Mikhail V Apr 26 '16 at 20:39
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    I think you're talking about Platonic Ideals or archetypical or prototypical tools. – Dan Bron Apr 26 '16 at 22:00
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    You may refer to a tool considered perfect as "the ultimate tool". – Graffito Apr 27 '16 at 16:39
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You can say that the design of the tool is optimal to mean that "nothing better can exist in principle" with respect to a particular application.

Here are the definitions:

Design noun 3 [mass noun] Purpose or planning that exists behind an action, fact, or object: the appearance of design in the universe - ODO

Optimal adjective Best or most favourable; optimum: seeking the optimal solution - ODO

Here's an example:

Principles of Optimal Design puts the concept of optimal design on a rigorous foundation and demonstrates the intimate relationship between the mathematical model that describes a design and the solution methods that optimize it. - Principles of Optimal Design

  • Ok, "optimal" I think would be optimal :) I thought however there is some special word for the "optimal tool". Put another way, a state, or prototype of the tool, which is optimal and there is no need to search for other solution. – Mikhail V Apr 27 '16 at 13:47
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    @MikhailV If it was about fundamental particles in Physics, you might call it a ground state. However, saying that a tool is in a ground state (i.e. it's been ground up) is quite another thing :) . It's customary on the English.SE site to provide a sample sentence with a spot for the word you're looking for - this helps the community to find a word that more closely matches your concept. Look also at the single-word-requests tag; hover over the tag and click on info. – Lawrence Apr 27 '16 at 14:04
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Pinnacle might be a good fit. For instance,

The humble laser level represents the pinnacle of leveling tools.

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You could consider describing the tool as elegant.

of scientific, technical, or mathematical theories, solutions, etc.) gracefully concise and simple; admirably succinct.

More on engineering elegance here.

The French aviator, adventurer, and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, probably best known for his classic children's book The Little Prince, was also an aircraft designer. He gave us perhaps the best definition of engineering elegance when he said “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

"Perfect" is not a term engineers use often, because there is almost always something that can be improved, and one shouldn't rule out the possibility that a better solution could be invented. "Optimal" is similar, but sounds a bit more hedged than "perfect" because it might only be optimal within constraints.

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Something that has reached its perfection is - um - perfect. Why not use that? Utopia means nowhere - do you really want to say a tool found nowhere? There are other ways of expressing the thought, but perfect sounds perfect, and when we use words like pinnacle, zenith, peak or acme, we usually append of perfection.

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I'm not a native speaker either. In my native language, I do have a word for something that perfectly fits its purpose, but I found no synonym in English.

You may look for optimal design, as suggested by Lawrence, but the ball bearing isn't the optimal design by itself. One bearing is optimal for one design, but not for all. Sometime, fluid bearings are required, sometimes a plain bearing is enough. The ball bearing is just the idiomatic solution for some applications such as Skateboard wheels.

"Idiomatic" doesn't match your definition, but is usually more appropriate to describe the state of the art than "perfect". It means that everyone does that way, that it works, and that there is presumably no reason to look for an other way to achieve the task. In engineering, there is no such thing as "perfect", every single choice is made according to a given context.

  • and what is this word in your language, if not a secret? – Mikhail V Apr 27 '16 at 21:52
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    I'm French, the word is "idoine" – Jacen Apr 28 '16 at 8:46
  • Looking at idoine, it has a different etymology and meaning to idiom; idoine comes from Latin idoneus, meaning "suitable, apt" (there is an English version, idoneous, but most people would probably not know that word). Idiom, on the other hand, comes from the Greek ἰδίωμα (idioma) via Latin and the French idiome (along with idiomatique). – Myles Jan 26 at 16:29
  • I'm intrigued how much idoine and idiome have co-existed and influenced each other in French, though, perhaps to make this a more idoine usage in French than English. I suppose you could say that it's more of a French idiom. – Myles Jan 26 at 16:30
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Something that is the best version of itself could be said to be ideal. In this sense, it would be such an appropriate version of itself that it is almost as if the abstract idea of it has manifested without any drawbacks. It also has the advantage that it can be used either as an adjective, or as a noun by ellipsis ("It is the ideal").

Looking at your examples of ball bearings and drill bits, you could say that they are ideal for their intended uses.

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