In the summer before I entered college I learned a lifelong lesson that I pass on to you. I was working making copies of various drawings and other documents for a civil engineering firm. (We called ourselves Reproduction Engineers.) So one day when one of our engineers gave me a drawing to copy I asked my cohort whether I should use the old paper or the new paper. And the engineer (rightfully) became upset, saying that this was an important project for an important client, and that it deserved to be placed upon new paper. My cohort explained to the engineer that I misspoke, because I was really only asking if we should continue to rotate our paper, using “first in/first out“ or not. Thus all of the paper was basically new. So the lesson I learned was as much as possible to choose my words carefully, because words mean something. And that has certainly helped me throughout my life both in my legal practice as well as with my general communication and perception skills. Why? Because we think in words, and if we don’t understand the nuances between (or among) words, we will not understand the concepts. And this will place definite limits upon our understanding of what is going on around us. As such, these are important things to teach ourselves, and our children!

So what are some examples of words that have nuances which convey different meanings?

  • Imply vs. infer: A speaker implies a particular fact, and a listener infers it. So many misunderstandings are caused between people, groups of people and even countries when the implications are different than the inferences. And often those misunderstandings can cause loss of friendships, physical fights, lawsuits, or even wars.
  • Solve vs. Resolve: If you want solutions, become a mathematician because, for example, the solution to finding the area inside a rectangle can always be found by multiplying the length times the width. But most of human disputes and problems don’t have solutions, only artificial resolutions. For example, if a driver goes through a red light and hits your car and breaks your arm, the solution is not to have had your arm broken. But we can’t do that. Instead we mostly only use the resolution of having the driver pay some amount of money to the injured person. Thus much time and energy is lost in our world by trying to find solutions to problems that literally can only be resolved.
  • Discuss vs. Argue: It is normal to have honest disagreements about things, but there is a great deal of difference between discussing the merits or demerits of various approaches, as opposed to arguing about them. Discussions imply that rational thought is being used, but arguing implies that the situation is more being controlled by emotions. (And wouldn’t our country be in a better place if more people discussed instead of argued the issues of our day?)
  • Decline vs. Refuse: There is a major difference between declining an invitation to do something as opposed to refusing to do so. What difference is that? To decline a request implies that you have weighed it and decided that it really doesn’t work for you at this time, but this is not a value judgment. A refusal is more emotional, and implies that the offer is stupid, immoral, illegal or in some way mean spirited. Of course, there is a place for both declinations and refusals, but it would be a good thing for people to understand which response they wished to convey.
  • Risk vs. Gamble: Our daily lives are full of risks we voluntarily undertake. But this means we have weighed the probabilities of the risks of doing something as opposed to the benefits that would be received, and decided accordingly. For example, driving a car or even taking a bath have risks connected to them, but the risks can be controlled by being careful. But when people gamble they have no control over the outcome. A good example of this is playing roulette.

Of course there are many other examples. But through the years I have found it to be interesting, fun and productive to analyze the nuances of different words. And I think you will as well – and so will your children (and grandchildren)!

Question for the week taken from an attorney I recently worked with in a mediation: “What’s the difference between a cat and a complex sentence?” Answer: “A cat has claws at the end of its paws, and a complex sentence has a pause at the end of its clause.”

BTW, I will be traveling next week, so I will skip next Monday’s edition. But somehow we will all survive.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.) Superior Court of Orange County, California 2012 Libertarian Candidate for Vice President

Please listen to our radio show entitled All Rise! The Libertarian Way with Judge Jim Gray as we discuss timely ssues and show how they will be addressed more beneficially by employing Libertarian values and approaches. The series has concluded, but you can still hear any edition On Demand at https://www.voiceamerica.com/show/3883. And, by the way, these 2 Paragraphs columns are now on my website at www.JudgeJImGray.com, Facebook and LinkedIn at judgejimgray, Twitter at judgejamesgray, and wordpress at judgejimgray.wordpress.com. Please visit these sites for past editions, and do your part to spread the word about the importance of Liberty. In addition, my new book with the same title as my radio show is now available at Amazon.com., as is my wife Grace’s and my new novel centered about School Choice entitled 2030 KIDS: We are the Rising Heroes of the Planet. Please read and discuss them with your friends, and send in a review.