What are the (maybe subtle) differences between the three words in the question? Which one would you prefer in which context?

I am translating a text from German where the word "Sockel" is used, and in the text it has the three meanings:

  • basis or ground layer of a natural structure
  • metaphorically, something which serves as a base for higher (mental or spiritual) achievements
  • something on which you put a statue

Ideally, the English word should have all these connotations too.

Additional question: Could a simple "base" or "foundation" work too?


1 Answer 1

  • 'socle' is a rare technical term in English. That is, though they may be almost identical words in the two languages, the English term is almost unrecognizable.

  • 'plinth' is technical term but not as rare as socle. it is a low base, the bottom slab on which a column rests.

  • 'pedestal' is a common term definitely something you put a statue on, but also metaphorically for putting something aspirational on. This may be a column itself and then a statue or another even another column goes on top of it.

  • 'base' or 'foundation' are often used metaphorically and aren't as technical feeling.

I would not recommend 'socle' or 'plinth' for your criteria. In increasing interest and specificity (start with boring and going to interesting) the others go: "base', 'foundation', 'pedestal'. 'Pedestal' is the most evocative and visually specific.

  • 2
    I really don't think you would say "this introductory course gives you a firm pedestal for further study of the language" (so pedestal is completely wrong for meaning number 2). The word base might be the best compromise to encompass all three meanings. Sep 30, 2017 at 22:56
  • @PeterShor I agree you wouldn't say that. I wasn't clear about the stretch of the metaphors.
    – Mitch
    Oct 1, 2017 at 2:34

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