We all think in words.  Thus if people do not understand the shades of meaning between two (or among three or more) different words, those people do not understand the concepts.  For example, I heard that there are more dialects in languages around the world that do not draw a distinction between the word “enemy” and the word “stranger.”  As a result, if I were to stumble out of the wilderness into your remote village, and you didn’t understand this distinction, I would automatically be your enemy.  Imagine how much needless violence, or at least lost opportunities, have occurred just from this situation alone!  Similarly, when we are driving our cars in the countryside and see the sign “Slow Traffic Keep Right,” what often goes through our minds?  “Oh, I’m not slow traffic, so I’ll stay in the fast lane.”  But if, instead, the sign were to say: “Left Lane Only For Passing,” our thoughts would more likely be: “Oh, I’m not passing, so I’ll move back to the right lane.”  Same intent, but different result.

                Other common but neglected differences in words that I find to be interesting and even fun are:

  • May vs. Can: permission as opposed to ability.
  • Imply vs. Infer: Speakers imply and listeners infer.  So many problems occur when the implications are different than the inferences.
  • Solution vs. Resolution:  Most human problems have no solutions.  If you want a solution, become a mathematician.  Human problems almost always are limited to resolutions, but they allow people to put those problems behind them and move on with their lives.  (I use this illustration often in my mediations.)
  • You’re welcome vs. No problem:  The former implies that the doer was happy to help; the latter implies that if it had been a problem, the doer wouldn’t have done the good deed.
  • Need vs. Want:  We want to be alive, but don’t need to be.  But we do need oxygen to be alive.  (Or, in a political context, a “need” is just a “want” that you should give me.)
  • Love vs. Like:  We can Like many things, but Love is special, and should be thought of in that fashion.  
  • Education vs. Indoctrination:  Upon reflection, that difference should be apparent.
  • Risk vs. Gamble:  Almost all things we do have some risks to them, but they can be controlled – think going for a swim.  Gambles cannot be controlled – think roulette.
  • Rule of Law vs. Rule of Man: The former strives to provide Equal Justice for All; the latter is often used to rewards one’s friends and punishes one’s enemies.

There are many more, and I think they’re both fun and important.  I hope you agree.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)
2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with
Governor Gary Johnson as the candidate for President