I've had some musing about this for some time and thought I'd ask the forum.

Are there any resources out there that provide a standard, comprehensive dictionary of acronyms, terms and keywords for the Spatial Industry?

I've seen the Spatial Industry make leaps and bounds into other sectors outside of it's geology/geography roots, and with this terms such as GIS (geographic information system), Coordinate System, I believe are beginning to lose their potency in definition and are more historical terms due to the introduction of spatial technology to an increasing audience of users, developers and enthusiasts.

The most common example I come across, is the term Coordinate System. Typically used to defined a projected and geographic coordinate system to the uninitiated, it can become confusing or add ambiguity to an answer if the merits or differences between coordinate systems is being discussed.

As a result I prefer to use the term Spatial Reference System and offer the sub categories of projected reference system and geographic reference system. Essentially, I'd prefer to align myself with a set of agreed terms that can be addressed. If such a reference exists.

  • 2
    This could be an excellent question/resource that would make for a good community wiki. May 10, 2011 at 17:41
  • 1
    lib.berkeley.edu/EART/abbrev.html - can convert this to community wiki if everyone and OptimizePrime is happy too.
    – Mapperz
    May 10, 2011 at 17:59
  • 1
    To really answer this question in a systematically, an ontological approach would be needed to help handle the ambiguity present in the words used: a word like 'feature' means many different things, and its useful to know their relationship in context rather than a single 'correct' definition.
    – scw
    May 11, 2011 at 6:49
  • I would very happy to convert this to a community wiki. Thank you @Mapperz May 11, 2011 at 17:03
  • @whuber (mod) converted to community wiki yesterday
    – Mapperz
    May 11, 2011 at 17:23

5 Answers 5


The closest thing that I'm aware of is the ESRI GIS dictionary, though of course it's tied to a proprietary software package and company. It's pretty comprehensive though: http://support.esri.com/en/knowledgebase/Gisdictionary/browse

an open community version would be excellent though, something like a wiki (could be a good offshoot of this site!)


I am not sure you can get a true consensus on all terminology.
For instance:

ESRI Node = point or vertex
Autodesk Node = grip point
Microstation Node = text insert
ESRI Arc = line
Autodesk Arc = semicircle

Not that it wouldn't be nice if they could concede and all agree to a standard. And I do see some backing away from "OLD HAT" positions of "that is how we always did it".
Certainly some points of the industry should be clarified and standardized as in your example (op) CRS, SRS, GCS, GPS :) should be differentiated.

  • you can force a line break by adding 2 spaces at the end of the line (like I just did for your post). May 30, 2011 at 21:56
  • +1 You won't even get a consensus over time: ESRI, among others, continually changes its terminology. I don't fault them for this, because their terminology reflects how they think about and want their software to be used. But that's exactly the problem: the terminology in a field should not be driven by the needs of its tool makers, but by the ongoing development of its applications and its theoretical basis. Thus, we should pause and think hard before using software vendor documentation as a terminological resource.
    – whuber
    Feb 8, 2013 at 16:44

There are several ISO standards that would be applicable. For instance, what Esri calls a coordinate system should be called a coordinate reference system. The EPSG Dataset The problem is getting copies of them! There's also a wiki at GIS.com which was launched by Esri in late 2009. The requested pages could be a good starting point. Disclaimer: I work for Esri.

  • I have nothing against ESRI, most of my early learning was from ESRI resources. They historically, have been well written for core GIS topics May 11, 2011 at 17:05

Here is a list I came across from GIS Lounge.

And for good measure, a list of GIS acronyms:

  • +1 for the great info! I might have to compile each of these links given on this topic and make a comprehensive list. Jun 2, 2011 at 20:15

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