Friday, December 01, 2006

Stealing words

I don't like people who commit crimes on words. Semantic theft hurts the general psychology.

Advertisers are highly culpable in this. Usually I stay far enough away from marketing that I don't notice, but just driving around it's hard to miss the "home for sale" signs so prevalent in this area. No, what you have for sale is a house, a piece of real estate. A house may become your home, but it's what you make in the house and in your mind. "Home" is not something that could ever be for sale. Do not degrade the word by using it this way.

Corporations are really bad about this. They aren't willing to use the word 'problem', for one. When the parking lot gets full and you have to drive around for 10 minutes to find a space and people are 2 or 3 deep illegally, they'll say "we realize parking has become a challenge...". No, a challenge is a good thing, something you grow from and take on as a good fun puzzle or adventure that you'll feel satisfied about when you're done. The parking problem has no reward for employees. For the company, it's a matter of either hiring a valet or getting more space to park in. Maybe a little creativity might be involved in the latter, and that might merit it being called a challenge for a few people involved with business space acquisition, but that doesn't merit it being called a "challenge" in general. It builds up a bad association with the word "challenge," thinking that anything hard must be bad.

Then there's the word "utilize." Mostly it seems to be used to sound uppity. I guess that could be a goal, but it's not a very good goal. I'm all in favor of obscure words when you get more precise meaning, but I can think of few cases where semantic value is gained form saying "utilize" instead of "use." The only defensible case that comes to mind is "resource utilization," since it seems to imply a more quantitative meaning than "resource use." I guess it could also be argued that there's an implication in "utilize" that you're consuming a resource that has value, like the cost of a parking space for 8 hours during a week day. But I doubt all those corporate people think of such a fine semantic distinction when they write their missives.

There are many more examples, but you get the idea. Now, go forth and defend the precision and value of the language, and the impact it has upon our thinking.



Blogger Nikki said...

Hahahahahahaha! YES! To all of it. Especially the "challenge" euphemism/misuse. I think all societies have bullshit-speak, but we Americans do it like pros.

12/06/2006 7:15 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Or like 'prose' :-)

12/06/2006 10:29 AM  

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