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

Handpicked: Classifications, A Listening Politician, Grown Men Cry and Leceister City

Articles I Saved

Intertwingled Book Excerpt

Benchley’s Law – there are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don’t – points us in the right direction. To collaborate, we must admit ambiguity and complexity, and avoid premature classification.

41bj3omn05l-_sx332_bo1204203200_Intertwingled is in my top 10 non-fiction books. I enjoyed it enough to have read it twice within 12 months.

This article is one of a series of excerpt that Peter Morville, the author, has been writing from his books.

This article covers one of the core messages in the book, classification.

I am intrigued by the idea of how we classify things. It influences our conversation and the way we see the world. Many of the difficult topics are in some sense bounded by their classification; race, religion, equality, feminism etc. are all forms of grouping. We like to believe that there are clear boundaries, but the truth is never that binary. Things are never that clear.

The real world is grey. Everything is grey. We think it’s not. That is just an illusion.

It all depends on where you start from. If you can change the way a person classifies what they see, you change how they see, and therefore how they think about it.

I work with ambiguity all day. As a business analyst you have to be comfortable with ambiguity and complexity, because that is where the truth is. Continue reading “Handpicked: Classifications, A Listening Politician, Grown Men Cry and Leceister City”

Partner with Multiple Meanings

Words have multiple meanings. We have to know the context to know the meaning. And sometimes we have to know more about the person talking to know the meaning they intended.

This is one reason a controlled vocabulary in a work place is a good idea. Communication is hard enough without a single word meaning multiple things to the same person. Magnify that in a group setting and there is every chance someone misunderstood you.

I spotted one of these yesterday, in an out of work context. The word ‘Partner‘.

Continue reading “Partner with Multiple Meanings”