Words Mean Things: The Importance of Clear, Concise, and Intuitive Communication

Oxford English Dictionary via AP

Some years ago, I was working in the small northern Indiana town of Warsaw. While there was a lot of back and forth between Indiana and the Denver area, where we were living at the time, the work schedule had me spending every third weekend in Warsaw. (This is relevant, I promise you.) 

One lovely Saturday afternoon, I was leaving the town's gas station and convenience store, which was located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 30 and Indiana State Highway 15. As I walked towards my truck with my bottle of pop, a guy rolled up in a car with out-of-state plates. He pointed to the north up Highway 15 and asked, "Does this road go to Goshen?"

"No," I told him, "The road doesn't go anywhere. It just stays right where it is. But if you drive up that road, you'll get to Goshen."

He looked at me as though I had suddenly sprouted a third eye, then drove away. But he was demonstrating something that's all too common these days: A failure to properly understand the substance of a thing and to describe it accurately. This happens all too often in politics, where politicians (especially, but not exclusively, leftist politicians) bend the meaning of words and phrases, sometimes beyond all recognition. Maybe it's because I'm an aging Boomer who went to school back when they were still teaching us to diagram sentences, but it bugs me.

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But there are a few particularly annoying examples.

First, can we get back to calling men, men, and women, women? All this shilly-shallying around is tiresome. Also, sex - not gender; people have sex, words have gender - is not assigned at birth. It's not assigned at all. It's determined genetically, and that happens not at birth but at conception.

Second, political terms. Here's one: "Gun violence." There is no such thing as gun violence. There is only violence, which is an act. An act requires an actor. The effect requires cause. Guns are inanimate objects. They are tools. They can neither be actors or causes. They are morally inert. Violence is perpetrated by humans, and only humans are accountable for it. Here's another: "Capitalism." There's no "-ism" in honest, laissez-faire trade-based economies. There is no underlying ideology other than liberty. Market economics are based on free people making free decisions as to how best to use their skills, abilities, and resources. What leftists call capitalism is just liberty. And finally: Democracy. The United States is not a democracy. The word democracy does not appear in the Constitution. The United States is a federal constitutional republic. That's by design. Calling it a democracy is inaccurate. Worse, it's misleading.

Third and finally, can we just desist from the whole "pronoun" tomfoolery? Male pronouns are "he" and "his." Female pronouns are "she" and "her." If you're a he that wants to LARP as a she, fine, knock yourself out, but don't start making up nonsense pronouns like "xe," "fwee," "zoop" or whatever the latest fad pronouns are. There are rules of English for a reason, and it just makes things a whole lot easier to understand if we use the correct ones, not to mention the time saved by having to ask every purple-haired nut one encounters, "Excuse me, could you repeat that?"

And, finally, when did it suddenly become a thing to say "...on accident?" It's wrong. Wrong! Stop doing it!  It's by accident. By accident, not "on" accident, so get it right because even if you use "on" by accident, it is still wrong!

Using the right words is important. So are using proper punctuation, including apostrophes. (There is a joke about punctuation I'd love to tell, but this is a family-friendly site.) Written and spoken communications should be three things: Clear, concise, and intuitive. Meet those three (and I confess to not always being concise), and everything is just so much easier to understand. And isn't it best that we understand each other? That seems the minimum requirement for dealing with people.

I'd love to go on, but sooner or later my wife will come looking for me.

In this online world, very often the written word is all we have to judge each other by - and, yes, people judge each other, all the time. They always have and they always will. To make your points, it's vital to be accurate - to be clear, concise, and intuitive. Use every word required to make your point, and not one word more. Never use a big word where a diminutive synonym will suffice. Words mean things, they get strung together into sentences that mean things, and that's how we communicate. If we all do so clearly and accurately, it will save us all a whole lot of trouble.


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