Seems like I’ve been allowing myself to get lathered up lately by people using words that don’t really mean what they’re supposed to mean. Our language is screwed up enough without us intentionally making it more so.
For example, I made a full post recently about how “Best Practices” is a terrible use of the word “best.” Even got some feedback that said that it’s obvious that we don’t really mean “best,” but that it’s still the best way to get the point across. No, it isn’t! Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
Then, the most recent post prior to this was about how ROI (return on investment) is used in all kinds of ways that don’t really match with what that term technically means. Sure, there’s no great harm in using the term incorrectly, as long as you think the dumbing down of society is no great harm.
Another inexact (actually, just plain wrong) use of our words comes in the form of “open source.” If I had a nickle for every time in the past couple of years that I saw a presentation where the presenter talked about all these great open source tools they were using, such as Evernote, and Google Docs, and PBworks, and Prezi!! No, no, no; a thousands time no. Do they feel the need to use the term “open source” because they think that makes them cool? A free web-based tool is not necessarily (in fact, not usually) an open source tool. Please learn what the term really means.
Maybe you’re saying that it matters not what we call something; it mainly matters what that something is and what we do with it. “A rose by any other name…”? Yes, I suppose that sounds pretty good – but it probably isn’t going to work for me. We’ve been told that Abe Lincoln was a man of sizable intellect. One of my favorite Lincolnisms provides good evidence of that intellect, I think. One of his stories is something that I have brought up in conversation dozens of times over the years. The tale (tail?) goes something like ‘How many legs does a dog have if you call his tail a leg?’ Many people jump to the answer of five. Lincoln’s comeback would be that there are only four legs, for calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg.
Just because you say your practices are best, doesn’t make them the best. Just because you say that you invested in your education doesn’t make it an actual investment. Just because you say I’m an idiot, doesn’t make … oh, never mind on that one.
And now about the Lincoln story. Saying that it was about a dog doesn’t make it about a dog.
Sign photo (at top) By jack dorsey (CC-BY)