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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What is in a Word?

The conversation went thus:
@ReginaHolliday: The most important element of any debate is not the argument, it is defining the words and terms
@motorcycle_guy: @ReginaHolliday I don't much care what you call it, so long as I understand what you are talking about.
@ReginaHolliday: @motorcycle_guy Really? The words we choose are just as important as their meaning, subtle differences tells us so much about world views.

Now I'm sure what I was talking about, and what Regina was talking about were two different things, and in general, I agree with her last statement.

Take for example the words "template" and "archetype".  These are different terms with nearly overlapping meaning used in slightly different ways by people with overlapping skills and affiliations (see Triplets for the definitions of these terms).

My own response was spurred on by more than two decades of shipping software where the names of things (products, screens, et cetera) were often changed by marketing at the last minute.  I got over any attachment to names a long time ago, and instituted development policies that enabled our processes to support name changes at the last minute.

I'm pretty clear on the necessity of ensuring that all parties in the conversation have a clear understanding of the terms used.  I'm not particularly attached to any one term from one perspective.  But my children know that the definition of pedant is "father".  If you use a word in a particular context, it is important to to me to use it in the correct fashion.  Anyone who has traveled internationally to countries where they speak the same language as your native one should be able to understand the need for this.  The words may be the same, but the meaning is often quite different.

In order to be successful in the standards space, you have to be rather flexible with your context, but precise in the terms used within it.  The subtle differences in how a word is used it vitally linked to the context that a person is using them in.  So long as I understand your context (world view), it isn't important to me what the words are.

There are three possible outcomes of a debate:  Win/Win, Win/Lose and Lose/Lose.  Political debates most often end in the Win/Lose or Lose/Lose outcome.  In the ideal world, debates regarding standardization end with a win/win outcomes.  The exchange of views informs both parties, and the best outcome means that a decision gets made that is a win for all parties.

In this context (of standardization), the most important thing is to make sure that all parties in the debate understand the context (world view) and the terms used in that context.  If you cannot understand how the words are used, you won't be communicating.  If you aren't communicating, the most likely outcome will be lose/lose or win/lose.  In "my context", that's not the best outcome.


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