Thursday, 4 February 2016

The awesome power of words and how to use them for good

One of my pet hates is abbreviations.  This coming from a man who spent a dozen years in the military, but there's a fair reason why I'm anti the use of abbreviations in general, they're usage perpetuates a divide; you either know what they mean and can use them or you don't.  If you get a briefing that the NSA doesn't know about the TEC plans to RTB in DQT that's fine if you know what all the abbreviations stand for, but not if you don't know them all, or worse if you think you know them but you get it wrong.  Thing is even if you do know what the words mean do the abbreviations really help? It's a bit like using a long word because it sounds impressive even if it's usage isn't really 100% correct.

That's hate number two in language.  Our use of super-clever long words to display our intellect and again seek to divide the smart people from the masses.  If I have to go look up the words you use to me then surely some of the very impact you may have been hoping for has been lost - unless of course the impact was to let me know what an extensive vocabulary you have.  If you think something is too long there's no shame in saying that, you could say that it's of protracted duration but what do you add besides protracting the duration?  I'm a firm believer that a smaller vocabulary used to express what you believe in trumps an extended vocabulary used to show how big and clever you are - the focus should be on your argument and your reasoning not how to exclude others from it.  Don't get me wrong sometimes the best word is a long one, some words give a greater impact and can carry the weight of five shorter words, but the decision should be made with consideration for who your potential audience is too.  I've reported to some pretty important folks at time, but I've never felt the burning need to try to vamp up my language to match their expectations.  Am I wrong? Do they treat me with disdain because of my lack of a highly extended vocabulary?  I doubt it, but I can live with it if they do, at least they know what I mean.

Pet hate three comes in the form of those oh so awesome sounding buzz words and phrases.  Micro-learning, Personal Learning Network, Knowledge Management, Social
Anything, Micro-Anything, Learners, Learning Anything, Anything Learning.  Whilst I apologise for using swear words on Twitter recently I stand by my criticism of 'Wanky Words' that get so regularly used particularly in the learning area.  I'm usually upset enough at the definition 'learners' implying that they're a special sub-breed of human, but going as far as further defining just drives me nuts.  We actually need to stop grabbing trending words and bandying them around as if they convey the power behind them to change the world.  All they do is alienate again or add a sense of science where it doesn't belong.  If something sounds super technical and cool, there's a concept that we can sell it easier, when the reality is we end up shovelling the same stuff and perpetuating rubbish science.

The biggest thing though is that words are here to help us to explain things to others and we need that at the heart of our communication.  Words as weapons? No, not unless your intention is to hurt someone.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, but the power is not in the alienation or the attack of the others, but in the ways we can connect, interact and share.

My final point comes from a few Twitter chats I've seen bouncing around.  What's your inspiring word for the year?  You can imagine the buzz words that fly given that sort of challenge.  How about instead of picking a word for the year, you aim for using your words only to help others - the individual words and phrases will take care of themselves if you have that type of intention.

Love to hear your opinion... am I off? Are words best served in a cleverly constructed way to ensure the picture is accurate? Or what's your word for the year? Happy to take it further or shut up if need be!