A Word About Word Choice


What we say, and how other people hear it, is largely determined by the choice of words we use.  And by how those words are defined or understood by the listener.  For example if one asks a question in Spanish to a person who understands only Mandarin; the chance for rapid communication is low.  Or if a pointillist describes blending various hues in a piece of graphic art to a blind man.  The likelihood of true comprehension is in doubt.

We are each reared in a given place; under given conditions; with in a given culture.  These environmental conditions color and influence our growth; and  inform the experiences we have in that setting.  Including the language we are exposed to, the dialect we have, the slang we hear and the words we learn.  So these beliefs, concepts, ideas and words form our vocabulary; as well as shape the way we use it.  They also inform these words agreed upon meaning.

As long as we converse within our own cultural group or local community, the likelihood of being understood is higher because the people around us share multiple points of common reference with us.  The words we use have defined and accepted connotations, as well as stated definitions; within our locale.  Which works well, as long as we are in that environment.  But matters will be different as we meet other people who have  experienced different formative conditions.

For that reason their understanding of the same spoken word or words may vary with ours; sometimes widely.  Even when the differing parties define a word the some way; the cultural connotation for that word can be significantly different.  And that is a consideration of just one word.  So the more the vocabularies of various groups diverge, the greater the chance for misunderstanding between them.  Although there is no ill will or bad intent involved.

More important than that however, is the fact that the speaker often reveals information about themselves with their choice of words.  Which can show their level of vested interest a given subject.  Or their personal biases about that subject.  It can also indicate their level of knowledge about the subject being discussed.  Or their level of knowledge in general.  Although there is no doubt that is usually better to say nothing rather than the wrong thing; this fact is often realized only in hindsight.

Another concern is that the wrong word choice can imply fault or blame, when none is intended.  It can suggest intent, or motive, where there is none.  Or the connotation of the words chosen may discourage others from action when that was not the speaker’s intent.  Or encourage others to act when that was not the speaker’s meaning.  It can even undercut the value of the information or message which the speaker is trying to convey.

When the meaning of our words are unclear or misinterpreted, then communication suffers.  This leads to error, mistrust and suspicion, as the speaker’s message and motives are called into question.  So it is important to understand our words for the tools that they are. And to know the words we choose to use with care.   This means having or gaining an understanding of what message our words may connote; as well as how those words are defined.  Which will help us keep our words targeted towards the message we want to share.

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Respectfully Yours,

J. A. Stubbs, Editor-In-Chief

Forgotten Lore Publishing, llc