Established, since 1997, leading UK based training provider.

How Language Causes Confusion

How Language Causes Confusion

How language causes confusion.

There are five main ways in which language causes confusion:

  1. Whenever a word has multiple possible meanings.
  2. Whenever a single object has multiple names.
  3. Words that have NO (agreed) definition.
  4. Words that denote, not a thing, but rather, the absence of a different thing.
  5. Words that denote things that do not exist in reality.

1. Words that have multiple possible meanings.

There are many words, or concepts, that have multiple possible meanings and therefore are the potential source of confusion.

For example, the following list of concepts cause different people to think of different meanings;

  • Appropriate dress
  • ASAP
  • A Proper education for our kids
  • A fair taxation system

Whenever you use a word or concept that could mean something different to each person who hears it, it is vital that you add more detail to your message, so that the image in the mind of the receiver corresponds to the image that you have in your mind.

2. Single objects that have more than one word that denotes it.

There are some things that attract many names. For example:

  • In music, G sharp is the same note as A flat.
  • In nutrition, Nicotinic acid, Vitamin B3 and Niacin, are all the same thing.
  • In geography, Holland and the Netherlands are the same place.
  • In history, James I of England and James VI of Scotland was the same man.

Be aware that this phenomenon could be the cause of confusion, so take all necessary steps to explain yourself properly.

3. Words that have NO (agreed) definition.

There are many words that have no agreed definition. They are words that sound good, but they are almost empty of meaning. They are used as soundbites.

Examples such as:

  • Modernise (As in Tony Blair's "Modernise the NHS", or "Modernise our economy")
  • Progressive attitude
  • Hate speech
  • Cultural atmosphere
  • "Let us go forward"

Try to avoid using these abstract terms. They are almost devoid of meaning. If you want to use them, think more about what you mean and write something more specific.

4. Words that denote, not a thing, but rather, the absence of a different thing.

There are many words that denote the absence of something else. For example:

Cold: Coldness is not a thing; cold is the word we give to denote the absence of heat.

Darkness: Darkness is not a thing; it is the word we give to denote the absence of light.

Poverty: Poverty is not a thing. It is the word that we use to denote the absence of wealth.

Death: Death is not a thing. It is the word that denotes the absence of life.

Each of the above concepts seem to be real OBJECTS, that have a separate existence, when in fact they don't. It is confusing that there is a word for something, but it is really the absence of something else.

This verbal confusion leads to a mental confusion that makes solutions to problems more difficult to find.

It is important to recognise these types of concepts and to recognise their status as NON-concepts.

Name the element whose absence gives rise to the concept.

5. Words or concepts that denote things that do not exist in reality, but only in the imagination.

We have many words that denote things that do not exist at all, except in the imagination. For example:

  • Father Christmas
  • Dracula
  • Pixies
  • Hobbits
  • Ghosts?
  • Martian invaders?
  • Angels?
  • Heaven?
  • Fate?
  • Luck?

It is important to ask yourself, does this thing actually exist and how do you prove it?

About the Author: Chris Farmer

Chris

Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

Blogs by Email

Do you want to receive an email whenever we post a new blog? The blogs contain article 5-10 minutes long - ideal for reading during your coffee break!

Further Reading in Communication - Clear Communication

  • Clear Communication
    Clear Communication How would you rate yourself as a clear communicator? Do people always understand your message? Or when you speak, do you suffer the problem of other people NOT properly understanding your exact meaning? You need to develop the skill of clear communication It is important that you do, because...
    Read Article >
  • Learn to Spot Logical Lies
    Learn to Spot Logical Lies It is important to be able to spot logical lies. Logical lies are the logical fallacies. The logical fallacies the common errors in logic. Everyday, people commit logical fallacies in order to purposely mislead others, or simply as a mental mistake. Facts are facts. So there...
    Read Article >
  • Training to Improve Your Communication Skills
    People do make judgements of you, based on your appearance and what you say. In order to give the right impression, try some new ways to improve your communication skills. You will improve your confidence and gain respect in the process.
    Read Article >
  • Notes on winning by Arnold Schwarzenegger
    It's about living. Not just existing! Wise words from one of the most successful people in the world.
    Read Article >
  • How to Prevent Misunderstandings
    Not everyone is on the same wavelength as you, and therefore misunderstandings can occur when you speak to people. Whether your message is complex or your audience reluctant to listen, read our great tips to prevent misunderstandings happening.
    Read Article >