The Challenge of Precise Language

August 07, 2020

Vocabulary matters. Using the correct term keeps everyone on the same page. It clarifies scope and context. It makes communication that much easier.

And in the technology industry we have a lot of terms. So many in fact, that they start to sound repetitive. And they get confused.

You’d think the best way to handle that would be to continue to define terms and move along. I’m not so sure.

Consistent confusion

One of the challenges we see a lot is the “official” term versus what gets adopted by users/developers. Too often these words aren’t exactly the same.

I’ve always felt this was the hardest line to walk. You want people to understand what you mean, so using the unofficial term might make sense. You don’t want to further confusion though, so what then?

My solution has typically been to use both and explain the various names. Bring people closer to understanding the vocabularly.

Does that work?

I’d like to think that works well. However, it isn’t without its downsides. Especially because we have a large number of people in our industry who worry about lack of precise language use.

To them, the confusion comes the minute you double down on the non-precise term. Because they know the difference, so you’ve erred in your usage.

Pendants

We can argue over whether that’s being pedantic or helpful. I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that we aren’t consistent with language. And we need a better way to help align people without maligning them for using a term that isn’t as precise.

This is especially true because in order to disagree with the incorrect usage they clearly knew what topic was being discussed. And isn’t that the point of language? To convey meaning?


A blog by Laurie Barth.
Teacher of all things tech.