March 5, 2008

Why words are important (An international example)

Once again here is an example of why it is important to use the right word at the right time.

AsiaMedia Columns :: From minor spat to cultural war

I agree the reporter was within his rights to use the word he did to convey clarity and precision to the story. The objections to the word he used was political not grammatical.

I have often talked about the meaning of a word and the sense of the word can be different.

My most common example is "regime."

By definition it means a form of government. Such as: The United States has a democratic regime.

Yet the sense of the word to many Americans is much more negative. It has a sense of a dictatorship.

Critics of the Bush Administration decry the "Bush regime." People talked of the "Pinochet regime" when denouncing the Chilean dictator. In both cases the use of the word is incorrect. "Bush" and "Pinochet" are not forms of government. But that doesn't stop its use. So the meaning of the word has changed in the minds of most people. The use of "regime" has come to mean something evil and wicked. It is a loaded word used to evoke an emotional response rather than to convey a precise and concise meaning.

I also use examples of how British English and American English have to watched closely. Knocking some one up in the morning has completely different meanings in the UK and USA.

With large portions of the world taught British English -- think India, Pakistan, Singapore and Hong Kong -- not knowing these differences can make a story go in a whole different direction.

As I told my students, when interviewing some one from a different culture if a phrase doesn't seem right, ask about the specific meaning. (And that different culture can just as easily be Midwest to Brooklyn or Vicksburg as USA to India. And here I speak from experience.)



No comments: