One of my pet peeves is the phrase “just semantics,” often used to dismiss the importance of something. “Sure it’s more auburn than red,” they’ll say, “but that’s just semantics.” The implication is that it doesn’t matter so much what words mean. But I think it matters a great deal.
We think in words, so if our words are sloppy, that’s a pretty good indication our thoughts themselves are sloppy. And sloppy thinking leads to all manner of big problems. I came across an example of a semantics problem today that prompted me to write this. It’s so astoundingly awful I just can’t believe someone actually wrote it and thought they were saying something intelligent. Here it is, a paragraph from TechCrunch:
The other half of Yahoo’s YOS strategy centers on an open strategy, particularly around search - see our update from April where some of those features were discussed and released.
The catastrophe is in the first part:
Yahoo’s YOS strategy centers on an open strategy. It’s problematic enough as-is, with the redundant “strategy.” But when you expand the YOS acronym, you get this:
Yahoo’s Yahoo Open Strategy strategy centers on an open strategy. Wow. Two words repeated twice and one repeated three times, all in one sentence. That’s “just semantics,” but it’s also just so fundamentally bad that I seriously question the author’s ability to form coherent thoughts.
Don’t let this happen to you, kids. Remember: words mean things.