How important is the right word?
Consider the young engineer that I worked with years ago. Ching Yi and her husband were from Taiwan, had moved to the United States, earned their degrees, and had found engineering jobs in Mobile. One day, one of our Louisiana Cajuns, an LSU graduate, was picking at her the way a lot of Americans do with each other.
Ching Yi was getting frustrated with not understanding why he was saying the things he was. Mister Fixit me stepped in and said simply, “Do not take Jason seriously; he is just pulling your leg.”
She quickly responded, “No, he never touched me.”
I immediately realized that even though I knew what I was saying that Ching Yi did not. Even though she was fluent in English and had better grammatical skills than me, she didn’t understand the street language of south Alabama.
I had to modify my comment to her and explain that he was joking and was trying to help her fit in.
One client sent an email to me and asked me to depute one of our engineers to come up and check out a problem he had. I had no clue what he was asking me to do but after a quick check of the dictionary, I discovered he was saying that he wanted me to deputize someone and get them to take care of his problem. He should have asked me to authorize or to simply send someone to check out his problem.
My dad often said, “Much obliged.” It was only two words but they define the very heart of this quiet Mississippi native who was thankful for everything that anyone had ever done for him. He never took anything for granted and he knew that everything that anyone did for him cost them something.
He could just as easily have said “Thank you,” but that may not have made such a lasting impression on a son who learned from him the basics of living, the necessity for working, and the importance of giving thanks to those who do for me.
A client and I had traveled to Denham Springs, Louisiana for meetings and while we were there, some of the people, who were LSU fans invited him to come to one of their tailgating parties at Tiger stadium. Being from India, he listened quietly, smiling occasionally, and nodding as if he understood.
When we started back to Mobile, with a planned side trip through New Orleans to go to one of the international food warehouses he asked me what is this tailgating that they were talking about? I explained that at ballgames fans would meet and set up a place to picnic and fellowship with friends. They have a lot of good food and use the time to encourage each other about the upcoming game.
He was satisfied with my explanation commenting that he now understood what they were talking about. Then we turned on to the Pontchartrain causeway and the first sign we saw read, “NO TAILGATING.” My work was not done.
The Right Word
Consider that Webster’s first dictionary, printed in the early 1800’s, contained about 70,000 words. There are probably more than a million variations available to us now.
William Shakespeare used 29,066 different words in all of his published works, including proper names to tell his wonderful stories. (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition)
American English is a beautiful language and has a word for every meaning that we want to convey. In writing, it is better if we choose the right word to convey the exact meaning of what we want our readers to understand.
by Wayne Brady 4/9/2013