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It’s A Gray Area:

The subtle nuances words have

October 11, 2008|By JAMES P. GRAY

Consider this: When we think, we really think only in words or something else that can be written, like musical notes, or mathematical or chemical equations. That means that if some people do not understand the shades of meaning between one word and another, they will be limited in their ability to understand concepts and options in everyday life.

Does this make any difference? I think it makes a great deal of difference. For example, I heard that there are more dialects in the world that have no difference in their languages between the words for “stranger” and for “enemy.” That means as a practical matter that anyone who is a stranger to those people is automatically their enemy. This in turn has probably resulted in lots of needless waste, fighting and lost opportunities.

Even people who do seemingly understand the shades of meaning among words often get too lazy in selecting the most appropriate one for their situation. For example, in my courtroom in many of what we call auto v. auto cases, most attorneys lazily fall back on the tired word “accident” to describe what occurred. But maybe this wasn’t really an accident. What if one of the drivers had been driving under the influence of alcohol or another mind-altering substance, or maybe were involved in some form of reckless driving? Then it could be concluded that this was not accidental, but intentional.

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Think about it. What other words could a plaintiff’s attorney use instead of the word “accident” to set the tone for his attempt for a more serious recovery? How about the words “impact,” “collision,” “striking,” “careening into,” “slamming together” or “smash up”? Or from a defendant’s perspective in trying more to downplay the incident, the attorney could, when appropriate, use words like “bump,” “touching,” “grazing,” “coming together” or “coming into contact.”

Another example that everyone should be aware of is that there is a world of difference between the words “solve” and “resolve.” Most of us in the court system realize that you can only find “solutions” for things like mathematical equations. But problems involving human conduct mostly do not have solutions, only resolutions.

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