For reason my ears have been assaulted recently by people using the wrong words in their conversations. Mark Twain said it best:
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
My wife and I started noticing this while watching a television show called S.W.A.T. (a poorly done remake of the original series from the 70s), and in the last few episodes we’ve had to pause the show so that we could look at each other and roll our eyes while discussing the word they “probably” meant to use. My wife is a former textbook editor and I grew up in a mansion of words, so we love language and words and interesting turns of phrase.
One of the standout word jumbles we heard had one character speaking to another about a topic they wanted them to explain in greater detail. Instead of simply saying “please explain that in greater detail” they used the words “Please extrapolate…”
The problem is, they probably meant to use the word “Elaborate” which means “to add details” or to “expand a description in minute details” — but that’s not the word they used.
Someone thought “Extrapolate” sounded better (or at least close enough) and it made it into the final edit of the show. If someone along the way had simply spoken up and said “hey, that doesn’t sound quite right — let’s look it up” they’d have found that the word means to use conjecture to arrive at a conclusion. If a sports team is undefeated going into mid-season, one could extrapolate that they’ll make it into the finals.
A television show is one thing, but it’s really important to use the right words when speaking to your customers
If you sound smart to your customers, they may extrapolate from that information that you may also perform competently when working on their projects. What you don’t want to do is try to sound smart by using words you’re not comfortable or familiar with in conversations with your prospects and customers.
I personally heard a customer service rep on a phone call today tell a customer that she was going to transfer her “…to someone more adverse with the product she was calling about”.
As a customer, you really don’t want to speak with a person who is adverse in regard to a product you’re interested in buying because Adverse means someone who is contrary and opposing to your interests and desires — someone who is actually antagonistic toward your purpose. They are the opposite of the person you want to do business with!
The customer service person likely meant to say she was transferring her to “…someone more well-versed with the product she was calling about” which means the customer would get to speak with someone very knowledgeable and highly experienced with the product in which she was interested.
I think it’s fantastic when people strive to improve their vocabulary
I always loved using the new words I learned from reading books when I was young, but I learned the word by reading it in the correct context and then looking it up in a physical dictionary (we didn’t have dictionary.com back in the Dark Ages) in order to familiarize myself with the word. I also use a thesaurus to help make certain the word means what I think it means and that it can be used in the correct context of the conversation.
You might think I’m overreacting and it’s not that big of a deal, but people who know the correct word that you just mangled will make judgments about your intelligence and your competency — and if you want them to rely on you to correctly execute their projects, you’ll want to begin by correctly executing a conversation.
But if you don’t believe me, you could always just tell me I should try lightening up on my attempts to help you bring the verbal lightning — but I’m just trying to lighten your load.
I apologize if my attempted enlightening bugged you.