“You Said What?” Saying What You Mean, and How to Say It

Does the word discuss mean the same as present? Or healthcare the same as health care? Some would say yes; some, no. The fact is, we don’t always agree on the meanings of words.

But if we don’t always agree on the meanings of words, do we always know what we’re saying to each other?

Not necessarily. And that is where problems can ensue.

I’m sure you would agree, for instance, that we should all be careful around anything labeled flammable, but what about things that are inflammable? If you remember your English grammar class and rules of prefixes, then it should follow that inflammable is the opposite of flammable, just as indigestion is the opposite of digestion; indecision, of decision; incomprehensible, of comprehensible; and so on.

This conclusion, of course, is totally wrong. (Inflammable things burst into flame!)

The point is that sometimes we use words that we THINK we know the meaning of, but we really don’t.

On the other hand, who can blame us. After all, close to half a million words reside in the American lexicon. Only a select few can claim to know them all.

Add to that, not every writer prefers the same “style.” In other words, even if we all agree on the actual meaning of words, that doesn’t mean that we always agree on how to use them. Few things one reads today are written in what we know as “standard” English.

For instance, historians are fond of Chicago style. Modern Language Association style was developed to simplify college essay writing. The American Psychiatric Association is often used by those in the education field. Styles differ on how to treat numbers (e.g., using numerals versus spelling them out), compounds (e.g., policymaker versus policy-maker versus policy maker), capitalization (e.g., capitalizing the first word after a colon versus not), and so on.

Such particular judgments and perspectives on how to write have precipitated a plethora of styles and the books to reference them; we have a great many of them in the Vector TalentMEDIA “library” and are well-schooled in pulling them off the shelf. Whether proofreading or substantively editing, we make sure that a client’s style preferences are strictly adhered to.

We at TalentMEDIA keep our dictionaries close and our style books closer.


Written by Lynda Case Lambert, Associate Editor at Vector TalentMEDIA. For more information about how TalentMEDIA’s team can help you, contact the TalentMEDIA Business Development Director, Jennifer Ford at jenniferf@vectortalent.com.

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