Monday, July 11, 2011

Talking around a definition (3)

Talking around a definition is the act of volubly describing something in order to evade defining it. Talking around a definition is like the misdirection used by magicians; the writer distracts his readers, listeners or viewers so that they won’t notice that he has not defined his topic.

Talking around a definition is popular among four-flushers and charlatans, for obvious reasons. But most people who talk around a definition do it unintentionally. They do it because they are vague thinkers and careless writers.

Here’s a two-minute video that talks around a definition of sustainability.


During the video, we heard that sustainability:

Is a “significant business strategy”
Is “changing how we do business”
Is “driven by” large and small companies
Is “rapidly becoming the market protocol”
Offers various advantages
Is “smart business”
Is “a competitive advantage”
Is “the new strategy”

So, in only two minutes, we heard eight claims about sustainability, but we did not hear a definition of sustainability.* Shouldn’t a company that presents itself as a sustainability expert be able to define sustainability?**

The Takeaway: Show respect and consideration for your readers, listeners or viewers. Define your topic, especially if it is new or complex. For your convenience, here’s a definition of definition: “Lexical definition specifies the meaning of an expression by stating it in terms of other expressions whose meaning is assumed to be known (e.g., a ewe is a female sheep).” Source: Britannica Concise Encyclopedia.

See disclaimer.

*Notice that the spokeswoman, the first time she says “sustainability” (at 00:19), puts a vocal question mark after it – hinting that, despite her generally confident delivery, she’s not sure what sustainability is, either.

**“The UN definition is not universally accepted and has undergone various interpretations. What sustainability is, what its goals should be, and how these goals are to be achieved are all open to interpretation.” Source

Update, February 15, 2012: I noticed that the writer and editor Jeffrey A. Tucker offered this forthright definition of sustainability: “[R]olling back the advances of civilization by force.” Source

No comments:

Post a Comment