You may have noticed I like to look up the definition of words.
Maybe it goes back to the 1970s when my family had a Reader’s Digest subscription (did every family?). Reader’s Digest had a regular feature called “It Pays to Increase Your Wordpower,” and I would read that every month, filling my brain with obscure and seldom used words which I no longer remember. Or maybe it was growing up as the youngest child, everyone else in the family knew words that I didn’t, so I was trying to keep up.
By the way, I just found out Reader’s Digest has an app. Of course they do.
Anyway, I think I look up words for three reasons.
First, as a writer I want to ensure that I use words properly (is it ensure or insure?). I assure you that it is ensure, although either is acceptable (See what I did there?).
Second, it is because words mean things. Yes, definitions can evolve over time. Yes, different cultures can have very different meanings for the same word. Yes, the context in which a word is used can change its definition (the word “word” is a great example of this). Still, in a given context and culture, words have meanings that are generally accepted. So to communicate effectively, I try to use the words that explain clearly.
Third and finally, I want to understand what others are saying and there are often words they use that I don’t know. Thankfully, “the googs” is a quick look to clarify.
Even so, misunderstanding and miscommunication can occur. The more quickly I write. The less time I take to edit. And my mid-western United States, white, male, protestant, middle class upbringing influences my preconceived notions of what I think is clearly communicated.
We are currently in a period where definitions are being turned on their heads. George Orwell had the date wrong by about 30 years. What he wrote in 1984 is happening in 2021. Communication is more challenging than ever as the meaning of words has become fluid.
As you lead your teams and organizations, choose your words wisely. Now more than ever.