Diction Dilemma: Discussing the Diversity of Definitions 

By Hannah Wheeler 

The world is surrounded by countless dilemmas. Dilemmas only deepen when people disagree over the very meanings of words. For example, what does the word ‘love’ mean?

Communication major Emily O’Neill defined love this way: “A conscious decision to lay aside one’s own preferences for the benefit of someone else; which results from the presence of the Holy Spirit.”

Early Childhood Education major Olivia Winslow said that there are different kinds of love.

She defined one form as “caring about someone’s well-being, which can even be applied to people that you don’t like that much.” She stated the second kind of love is seen in a “relationship.”

Ashley Whitten, an online English as Second Language teacher outside of LBC, had a simpler definition. She defined love as “selflessly caring for someone else.”

These definitions are fairly similar, but what about the word ‘happy’?

O’Neill defined it as “a variable emotion associated with pleasure, contentment, or positivity.”

Winslow defined happiness as “conditional” and “reliant on circumstances.”

Whitten defined it as “brief positive feelings of bliss that can make you feel better in a moment.”

These definitions are even less similar than the previous. Differences in definitions can lead to miscommunications if the definitions are not clarified.

As a Communication major, O’Neill viewed the failure to ask for clarification as partially rooted in fear.

“I think,” O’Neill said, “that we either don’t want to hurt [the other person’s] feelings or we don’t want to sound like we aren’t smart enough to know what [the other person] is talking about.”

Winslow placed part of the blame for miscommunication on personalities. She stated, “Two personalities communicate in different ways.”

Whitten, in her job as an ESL teacher, has daily encounters with students from China who are unfamiliar with words we may view as simple.

“I think that a lot of times we have our own opinion [about] what a certain word means,” Whitten stated. When, in reality, “someone may not even know what the word means.”

She explained that people’s background, meaning their culture and what they have been around, can significantly change the meaning of a word for an individual.

Language and Thought

O’Neill said she “thinks deeply about what other people say.” She said that she not only tries “to think of all the potential meanings of [a person’s] words,” but also “ponder deeper implications.”

O’Neill explained her interpretation of words as a blessing and a curse in certain areas of her life. “Unfortunately,” she continued, “this often influences my thinking negatively because I tend to interpret what other people say in a negative light.”

As a teacher whose main focus deals with breaker down language barriers, Whitten sayd that “whatever you speak engrains your head and becomes a truth to you and the people you are telling it to.”

“It starts with the way that you think, not the way that you speak,” Whitten explained her way of interpreting her own communication. “Educate yourself and be willing to ask questions,” and then look at your own words “and clarify [your own] language.”


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