If accuracy matters in communication, using the right word is smart.
On the weekend I heard a guy speak, who travels the world with an important message. He’s a smart guy, a PhD, but he used the word travesty when it seemed certain he meant tragedy. Several times it sounded like he used the word tenant, when the word tenet was what he meant.
Someone will say to me, “Antoni, get over it. You know what he meant,” which is fair advice and true; but it doesn’t change the fact that some of us will think slightly less of a person’s skill, character or judgment if they continue using the wrong words.
The wrong word miscommunicates and possibly rankles.
If you’re going to use a word in public, please: 1. use the right word and 2. say or spell it correctly. If you’re unsure, look it up. If you’re still unsure, use another, safer word. Even if it’s pedestrian.
American author John Gardner said that writers (and I say by extension, speakers) ought to be like circus knife throwers: experts in an exact art. Missing ought not be an option.
Using the right word, in the right way, may not be as great as using the best word, but it’s a lot better than using the wrong word, or using the right word wrongly.
Yes, many words are confusing. That’s why Paul Brians put together this excellent and helpful webpage.
Now that’s off my chest, I’m back to work.