Clarify What a Word Means

“Language has history. Synonyms and alternatives abound. Myths can get in your way too, unless you’re willing to uncover them. 

Gather the following about each term: 

History: How did the term come into being? How has it changed over time?

Myths: Do people commonly misunderstand this term, its meaning, or its usage? How?

Alternatives: What are the synonyms for the term? What accidental synonyms exist?” 

Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess

Every organisation I have worked in has its own vocabulary. There are terms you need to learn that have their own meaning, their own history, as per the quote above.

Meaning can change with context too. So the same word or phrase can mean different things based on the conversation you’re in at that moment.

Abby Covert challenges us to document these terms. To create what she calls a Controlled Vocabulary. She defines this as “An organized list of terms, phrases, and concepts to help someone understand a topic or domain.”

In the process you get very clear on what a word means. You clear up ambiguity. You understand the history. You bust the myths.

The goal? 

Common understanding. Clarity of what word means, and what it does not mean within the context of that organisation.

How can we understand each other when we don’t share the same definition of a word or phrase?

“Language is complex. But language is also fundamental to understanding the direction we choose. Language is how we tell other people what we want, what we expect of them, and what we hope to accomplish together.

Without language, we can’t collaborate.”

Abby Covert, How to Make Sense of Any Mess

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash