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A rose by any other name…

Have you ever noticed how changing one word can totally change a document or someone’s understanding?

I don’t mean where the wrong word is used accidentally (for example, a typing error changing boy to buoy) but where an appropriate word doesn’t work as well as intended.

Sometimes the word doesn’t work because of the audience. For example, I have seen Australian children (and adults actually!) struggle over American books when they write about pacifiers (dummies) and diapers (nappies) - that’s life if the author was aiming at American children, but bad judgement if the author was aiming at Australians.

Often, however, a word is used that has hidden meanings that can detract from what you were actually aiming at.

I recently had a discussion about the word therapist versus counsellor. While both words can describe a person you talk to about issues and (hopefully) get some insights and direction from the sessions. However, people perceive the two words in different ways – do you? Personally, a therapist implies someone who will help fix a problem (compare to a speech therapist or physiotherapist) but a counsellor is more about working through ideas or situations. So which word is best will depend on what message you are trying to give.

Another example is calling goals or targets ‘milestones’ instead of goals. Michelle of Shel Design was struggling with the concept of setting goals – to her, the word goal implied a final step whereas setting milestones was easier as they were just part of her business process and development. In this case, the word goals was appropriate but had certain hidden meanings for people like Michelle – when writing, those hidden meanings are important to consider, too.

When reviewing your writing, consider your use of words – are some of those words going to mislead some of your readers? Are there hidden meanings you haven’t considered?

Use your words wisely!

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