Question 10 Vocabulary – our choice of words
“Let’s offer it up and see if it indexes in the orifice.”
These words were spoken to a friend by his uncle, a professional engineer, as they lay under an old Volkswagen Beetle, struggling to fit a replacement back axle.
Not only were the two of them lying flat on their backs, but their eyes were wide open as they peered up into the darkness trying to fit a peg on the axle into a small hole on the underside of the car. At the same time they were supporting the weight of the axle which was heavy and swayed from side to side. Every time that it knocked against the car flakes of dirt fell onto their faces and into their eyes. It was a very frustrating position for my friend to find himself in. You can imagine his reaction to his uncle’s words.
The question is, which of these words should the uncle not have used?
Let’s offer it up and see if it indexes in the orifice.
Offer, indexes, orifice: these are the words that the uncle should not have used.
Most of us would have said something like, “Let’s lift it up and see if it fits in the hole.”
Why can our choice of words be so important?
My friend was annoyed by his uncle’s use of technical words – jargon – when it was not necessary. It seemed like a kind of showing off and was especially irritating as lumps of dirt were falling onto his face while his hands were occupied.
When the medical team is closing up the blood vessels in your brain, when your lawyer is checking the commas in a contract that you are about to sign – a Canadian power company recently lost millions over the placing of a comma in a contract – or when the sound engineers are checking your equipment just before your first gig at Wembley Arena, these people will need to be able to speak very clearly and precisely about what they are doing. You will want them to be able to say or write exactly what you need to have said or written.
Don’t believe me?
You are probably able to tie shoe laces. Get a friend to sit with his or her back turned to you, wearing an unlaced shoe. Tell your friend to carry out your instructions exactly then tell him or her what to do, without any discussion and without you looking to see how things are going. When the process is “finished” you can take a look.
If you can speak English then you can understand English.
If you understand English then you will use it more effectively.