Semantics…

My last post got a little fun controversy going on the blog and among the graduate program here at UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It’s a fun topic – inasmuch as grammar and pronunciation can be fun – but it brings up a good point about clarity in communication.

I mentioned earlier that I tore my Achilles tendon at the beginning of October. I’m fine now; my cast is off and I’m limping around in a funny shoe. Interesting fact about a torn Achilles: an MRI isn’t necessary for diagnosis. X-rays are useless too. All that’s needed is the Thompson Test. Lie on your stomach, reach around to the back of your leg and squeeze your calf muscle. If your Achilles is intact, your toe should point away from your body. If your toe doesn’t point, it means you tested positive on the Thompson Test.

Or does it…

My doctor alerted me to what I am sure is the most heated debate in orthopedics. If you test positive on the Thompson Test, does it mean you have tested positive for an Achilles tear, or does it mean you have a positive result to the test – that your Achilles is intact? Conversely, is a negative result negative for a tear or negative in that you have a tear?

In a similar debate, what would you do if I asked you to turn up the air conditioning? In my mind, turning up the AC means turning the machine up, thereby turning the temperature down. Some disagree, saying that turning the AC up means turning the temperature up. Seems incorrect to me, but who am I?

Anyway, my point is that when you are communicating a message, you need to avoid ambiguity. Unless you’re talking to a bunch of orthopedists, your audience probably doesn’t care if you know what the Thompson Test is. There’s no need to prove your intelligence to an audience; the need is for you to deliver your message simply and concisely. Avoid the big words, avoid the acronyms, avoid unclear statements and, above all, avoid the phrase “short-lived.” There seems to be debate about its pronunciation…

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