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During a friendly debate, my buddy Bob and I were having over how influential The Beatles actually were, I realized we were as much considering innovation as we were the Fab Four’s influence. These two words made our separate cases as we were both elaborated happily and knowingly on the distinction, another example in Bob’s constant claim that “words matter.”
Another close friend of mine Tom comes to me weekly with clear examples of people not being precise in their day-to-day language (yes, I do have some very smart friends with very wonderful vocabularies who try their very best to mean what they say and say what they mean.) He consistently hits divots on-the golf course-of-life with co-workers revisiting a problem because they weren’t precise with a question, or Tom having to all but school his colleagues over just why what they are asking doesn’t make any damn sense.
Bob, Tom and I are not the grammar police. Truly, I could give a dingus what words you use, or how or when you use them. I try to hold my tongue when someone slips up on their grammar…simply because I do it myself from time to time. But I try, I really do, when communicating to be as precise and descriptive as possible. I simply assume that if you are going to ask me a question, or direct me to do something for you (and I am such an amiable guy I pretty much will do something for almost anybody) or I send you an email to prompt a reply, that we’ll both do our best to use the right words (or a well-chosen one where two or three might belabor a point) and be as specific possible.
Tom, Bob and I are constantly being chastised over this often thought persnickety need for specificity, given the old stink eye when being such sticklers on language usage, but I’m sorry, I’m not going to ‘dumb it down’ for you just because you are lazy, or don’t care when you muddle-up saying what you really mean. If you say to me: “Can you unbutton your pants and lie back on the table” as a doctor actually asked me recently during a routine physical, without even realizing it I will say (as I did during that examination), but with truly no malice or mocking: “I can, but do you want me to?” And if you tell me to take the first chair of two that are sitting side by side, don’t be surprised (or give me that cold eye stare) if I turn and ask “Which one is the first chair?”…another incident that happened to me, mere days after the doctor visit.
I know we love shortcuts. I know LOL suffices for “Laugh Out Loud” (though, really when did I ever use that phrase before five years ago?) I can be blamed for abbreviating in text messages (which is actually Bob’s pet peeve, while mine is too much texting). All this concern over word meaning, the correct use if grammar, my little nagging concerns over what was said and how it was said, is what is called a small world problem. But remember, for some of us, words do have meaning, how they are used is important and we’re not just being pain-in-the-ass sticklers when we question something you said because you weren’t being clear enough.
Words do matter.