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Founder, Reverb Technologies/Wordnik


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How important is a common vocabulary for sharing ideas, and how do we arrive at one?

This Live Conversation will start on November 3, at 2pm ET / 11am PT.

Do we need to all be "on the same page" to have productive conversations? Do we have to use the same language or talk about ideas in the same way? What are some examples of vocabulary that's divisive, rather than helpful (e.g. "death panels")?


Closing Statement from Erin McKean

Thanks so much for all the great stories and suggestions -- such a big question can't be answered in an hour, but it's wonderful to be able to talk about it with the TED community! For more discussions follow my Twitter at @emckean. Thanks everyone!

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    Nov 3 2011: Whenever you're having a conversation with another person, there is more opportunity for misunderstanding than understanding. The reason is that language represents our internal thoughts and images.
    Language is a form of agreement between words and ideas. A common vocabulary is a requirement for communication to occur at the level of language, it's an agreement.
    The pathway to "shared meaning" is an open agreement for dialogue: the exchange between two people to better understand each others ideas through language.
    The critical ingredient: curiosity. The moment we "assume" that we know what the other person means by what they say, we cut off the possibility of truly understanding their meaning and their full idea. We don't learn anything new.

    Jargon is often times criticized and devalued, when rather it represents the work of past dialogues to create a single agreement for word meaning. Depending on the culture (group, organization, etc.) that uses that jargon, the meaning for the word changes. For example, the word "set" can be jargon for tennis players but has a rather different meaning for poker players.

    Dialogue, Curiosity and Agreement.
    • Nov 3 2011: I completely agree that jargon is useful. Everyone uses jargon, whether they realize it or not ... the difficulty is in recognizing when jargon is helpful and when it's harmful. I think it's helpful when it builds camaraderie, works as shorthand (think a busy restaurant kitchen) and harmful when it's used to exclude people who would like to join ...

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