Many may underestimate the powerful nuance of a word, and the profound effect it can have. Choosing the wrong word can set the wrong tone, give the wrong meaning, or leave the wrong impression.
In times of crisis choosing the right (or wrong) word can make a difference between keeping people calm or causing high anxiety. Some may call this “spin”, or “managing the message”. Whatever you call it, there is sheer power in the words we choose to use.
I noticed this recently with the coverage of the extensive flooding in Manitoba. When faced with the perceived need to do controlled flooding to a small area in order to manage the risk of worse damage to a much larger area, the language used was carefully chosen. While the media (and general public) called it “controlled flooding”, the Government and other bodies involved were careful to choose their words and avoid the use of the word “flood”. Instead, when quoted, they referred to “controlled spill”, “controlled flow”, “controlled release”, “intentional breach of the dike”, presumably all to manage the message, and hopefully the general public (especially those who were directly affected by the controlled whatever it was).
Given the headlines I was reading, I don’t know that this worked, but it was interesting to see the stark contrast in language being used, depending on who was doing the talking!
I’m sure the Government was given specific guidance from communications and PR experts, but in this case I don’t know that it made a difference, or had the desired impact of actually calming down the situation – simply because, to the general public (and particularly to those directly affected), this was a flood (whether controlled or not). For them, there was no sugar-coating the situation with the nuances of language.
I don’t know if others noticed this, but as a communications professional it sure caught my eye. How about you, did you notice the attempt to manage the message with language that avoided the “F word” – flood?