Logistic or Logistics?

On a recent commute to work, I happened to notice the words Logistic Center written in huge letters on a company building here in Germany (you can find a picture here if you look closely). As mentioned in a previous post, there are many false friends of this type that differ from the correct English word by just the letter s, and are often used incorrectly by non-native speakers (examples: physics, mathematics, genetics).

The word logistics is a particularly interesting example. First, both logistic and logistics are correct English words, but logistic is an adjective. According to Wikipedia,

Logistics is the management of the flow of resources between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet some requirements […]

The expression Logistic Center is most likely a mistake related to a translation from the German word Logistikzentrum. It may also be a literal translation of the German expression Logistisches Zentrum. At any rate, the correct English expression is Logistics Center (or Logistics Centre).

It’s surprising how many companies with non-native speakers in charge of naming buildings and managing web content make this mistake. (Just do a Google search for the term “logistic center”, including the quotation marks.) Finally, l don’t quite understand why a German company has to make life unnecessarily complicated by naming a building in Bavaria Logistic Center.

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3 thoughts on “Logistic or Logistics?

  1. I agree that “logistic/logistics” is an interesting example, but I’m not convinced that the matter is quite as straightforward as you suggest. Yes, as you note, the word “logistic” is an adjective, but so what? An adjective serves to provide additional information about a noun. So: a red bike, a large truck, the old suit. Does “Logistic Center” break that rule? I don’t think so, when you consider that the Oxford English Dictionary so ‘helpfully’ defines “logistic” as meaning “relating to logistics”. What is the German firm saying about the facility? It’s a centre, ie a transportation hub, distribution centre or warehouse of some kind, and it’s associated with logistic (yes, I mean ‘logistic’) activity. That being the case, what’s so wrong with the German labelling? The thing you don’t address explicitly in your post is the use of one noun with another, that is as a noun modifier. So: apartment window, office software, grandfather clock. When you suggest that “Logistics Center” is the correct phraseology, you are using the noun “logistics” to modify another noun, “center”. That can also be correct, but is it absolutely the case? I don’t think so. Consider some of the other tricky words that are distinguished by an additional letter ‘s’. For example, I don’t think anyone would disagree that in the statement “the runner displayed athletic prowess” the adjective ‘athletic’ is correctly used with the noun ‘prowess’. But the same word can also be used in an attributive sense – “an athletic club” – and still be correct (check out the Oxford dictionary online definition, where this exact example is given). So, while many of us might feel more comfortable talking about the “athletics department” or “physics club”, it is not always the case that leaving out the ‘s’ makes something wrong. If the British Army were to consider renaming the Royal Logistic Corps (its present title) then the Royal Corps of Logistics would be an obvious alternative, notwithstanding the debate that would undoubtedly ensue. I’m inclined to think, then, that the type of words your post addresses possess a grey area where it is not possible to be exact. For me, like you, “logistics centre” feels better on my tongue and sounds better to my ear. But conversely I am quite happy to talk about “logistic activity”, “logistic support” and “logistic tools”. The only conclusion I can draw is that my preference relates to the extent to which the noun to be further described is an abstract idea or a tangible concept. When you say “Logistics Center” I picture a large building near road or rail links and with loading/unloading bays. Then I prefer ‘logistics’. But how do I visualize activity or support? I can’t envisage a generalized picture that represents those ideas, and so I prefer to associate those nouns with the adjective ‘logistic’.

  2. Thanks for you excellent comment. You are completely right, there is of course no logic behind the choice between logistic and logistics in English. However, one is clearly favoured over the other by native speakers, so for me it makes sense for a nonnative speaker to stick to the rule rather than make up a pseudo-English expression, or simply go for the German translation.

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