During WW II, theater title cards, posters, magazine ads, etc. kept reminding the public that “Loose lips sink ships!” They were warning mostly about how letting slip* the departure time or destination of naval vessels or convoys might allow predatory German u-boats to ambush them.
In lame imitation, I keep warning that “Loose diction sinks communication.” OK. Inappropriate joking aside, if person A utters/writes a word thinking it means X, and person B hears/reads it thinking it means Y….
Specific example: What’s a “centrist”? Well, duh! A “centrist” is a person in the center. Yeah, yeah. I get that. But center of what? Political ideology, dummy! Sure. I get that too. But how does one define the ideological center? For example:
Let’s imagine an absolute ideological continuum. On the far left is absolute, pure, unadulterated liberalism; on the right, same for conservatism. (Doesn’t matter how you define the concepts, as long as the definitions remain consistent throughout the “thought experiment.”)
The “center,” then, is the midpoint between the two ends.
Now let’s imagine a second ideological continuum, this one representing an actual real-world population—like, say, randomly… oh, maybe the eligible voters of the U.S. On the left end of this continuum is the core of what it means to be a mainstream liberal in the U.S. Same on the right. And the center, of course, is the midpoint between the two.
Remember! We’re considering actual beliefs and ideology, not labels!
Still with me? Then, in your imagination, superimpose the real-world continuum over the absolute, theoretical continuum. (Old-school? Think transparent acetates as used in classic Disney animation. Digital-school? Think “layers” in Adobe’s programs.)
Manifestly, the top, real-world acetate/layer will slide left and right through the years. Rarely, and only briefly, will the real-world “center” exactly coincide with the absolute, theoretical center. Right? So if person A refers—without qualification or specification—to a “centrist,” how can persons B though infinity know what person A actually means?
*Sorry. 🙁 After “lip” and “ship,” I couldn’t resist “slip.”
This is a sorta draft post. I’ll revise it tomorrow by adding images and graphics.