22 January 2014
Today, there was almost a scuffle on the internet. Surprise, surprise. This one in particular revolved around the word inclusive. This word appears to have an inflammatory quality to it (see also: gender, privilege, and many others). I don’t want to rehash any of that particular discussion; I’d like to go a bit meta instead.
I have a thing that I always say, “Words have meaning!” Even when I don’t come out and say that directly, I imply it. I’ve been known to say to coworkers that I got their intent, but their words didn’t convey what they thought they did. I’ve got one coworker in particular that I say this to a lot. He appreciates it, although I’m sure it looks pretty jerky of me to outsiders. But I digress. We use terms to mean certain things (no brainer, right?). But we find very quickly that the way we intend a term is not always what the reader or listener hears. They bring their own interpretation to the table (as do we as the writer / speaker).
It’s easy to forget that, and it’s easy to forget that this is why we need to communicate. By X, do you mean Y, as I understand it? Does this mean conversations take a little longer? Sometimes it does. But sometimes it saves a lot of time because we don’t end up chasing rabbits down forlorn paths that aren’t germane to the discussion at hand. Use a term, define it if you expect people to misunderstand, and then be willing to refine it if necessary.
Then you’ll be communicating, and that’s a good thing.