Harvey Saying #15 – Use of Words

Harvey really believed that words should be used carefully and you mean what you write and say.  When I would put in a report "I feel ….".  Harvey would question the use and suggest that I really mean "I think……".   One that sticks in my mind is the use of the word "unique".  The word means the only one.   When I would use that word he would question whether the item was really unique.  Usually it was not unique, but just special.  One of his colleagues remembered Harvey challenging him on the use of that word ten years later when we were in a meeting.  Someone used the word and Harry quoted Harvey.  So many words we use get to lose their meaning by overuse and misuse.  In the IT business, the word system has totally lost its meaning.  It is almost become a non-word.  We are really mental cripples in the use of the language.  We use so few of the words available to us to make our meaning clear. 

Another area to think about is "big words" or loaded words.  These are words that contain lots of baggage.  Simple examples are words like "hate", "overwhelmed’, "neglect", "abuse", and "waste".   These words are used to elicit reactions that go well beyond the immediate statement.  We are must take care to use the right word so that our meaning is clear.  There, I used a big word, "must".  What I meant was "using the right word so that our meaning is clear is the better way".  I guess I have to have the courage to be imperfect.  More about that later.

  1. Morgan Goeller Reply

    Your posting made me think of this quote:
    There is no greater impediment to the advancement of knowledge than the ambiguity of words.”
    -– Thomas Reid
    I put something similar on my own site (http://architected.info/blog), so great minds must think alike 😉

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