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What Does the Word “Is” Really Mean?

Posted on October 30, 2013   |   




Most of my colleagues at some point have heard me say, “words have meanings.” Those of us who were adults during the Clinton presidency (yes, I was, and yes, I’m dating myself) likely remember President Clinton questioning the meaning of the word “is” during his grand jury testimony about his relationship with then-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” President Clinton said.

As ridiculous as that sounded, Clinton was correct: even the word “is” can be interpreted differently by different people. That’s why it’s (that would be the contraction for “it is,” by the way) so important to choose your words carefully and make sure your words mean what you intend.

  • I complimented my friend on how well the wine complemented our meal. (Aw, how nice.)
  • I am averse to heading out in adverse weather. (Chicken.)
  • I’d like to further my career in aviation, but I don’t like to fly farther than the Mississippi River. (Then you’ll be stuck driving trucks for the rest of your life.)
  • Can you ensure that you will call your agent to make sure he can insure your car? (It’s the law! You must have car insurance to drive a car in Colorado.)
  • If I’m better at skiing than at snowboarding, then why am I snowboarding? (Excellent question!)
  • Did you elicit illicit drugs? (I hope not!)
  • When I’m in the desert I always want dessert. (Preferably ice cream.)

You get the idea. I could go on and on, and there are plenty of articles, websites and blogs out there to help you decipher the meaning of words. A great place to start is www.dictionary.com. Here are some links to lists and articles about commonly misused words, too.

The English language is complicated, complex and often unexplainable, but misusing words and language makes you sound ill-informed and dare I say, uneducated. Gasp. We have Google now. If you’re unsure about the meaning of a word, it takes all of five seconds, depending on how strong your wi-fi signal is, to type in a word and get 29,346,222 results. In today’s world where knowledge is literally at our fingertips, there is no excuse to misuse words – even the word “is.”