One of the most egregious violations of good sense in language, it seems to me, is the use of the word “quality.” I sometimes wonder if that word actually is specifically defined, so often is it used to mean seemingly different things. Of course, that’s an exaggeration. It is usually used to suggest that something is good; as in a “quality” education, “quality” leaders, or “quality” products. I find this to be misleading, inaccurate, and incomprehensible.
I was taught that the term “quality” did not, necessarily, mean “excellent” but referred to those characteristics which distinguished one thing from another, as in; “This ale has a distinctly different quality from that stout.” (meaning that the taste, mouth feel, etc. are different), or “That cheddar is of a much lower quality than this one.” (referring to the idea that two things can be of the same type, but one is considered superior due to superior ingredients, greater care in processing, or some other factor).
But, I ask, what does the term “quality time” mean? Or, “quality coaching,” or “quality schools?” Are we attempting to refer to “HIGH” quality as opposed to “LOW” quality? If not, why not say so. After all, ALL time has a “quality,” although some of it (like getting a cavity filled by the dentist) is likely to be unpleasant, where a different one, like having an outing with friends, is not. I’m told that Albert Einstein once explained his idea of Relativity by suggesting that a minute holding a pretty girl’s hand and a minute with your bare hand on a hot stove were, still, only a minute, but they didn’t seem to be of the same length. I would suggest that they had quite a different quality, in the sense of characteristics.
I think words have meanings and that we have to be careful as to what we say, and how we say it. This idea isn’t new to me but, shows up in many ways and places.
I don’t believe that I am alone in reaching this conclusion regarding the accurate use of language. I suggest that the creators of the “Wizard of Id” comic strip seem to believe that careful use of language can lead to positive responses. For example:
As I have indicated in other places in the archives of this blog, one of the places in which language seems frequently to be quite poorly used is in criticism of all types. Whether it’s wine snobs, art gallery critics, political commentary, or other places; all too often we find ourselves confronted by (often) self-appointed “experts” who seem to feel that it is their right to tell us how we are supposed to react to some work of art, literature, theatre, music, or almost anything else.
All too often, the language of “criticism” seems to be, primarily, intended to establish superiority, or to confuse, and obfuscate. See this example from “Luann”
I think that’s too bad, and I hope to see leaders emerge who will give us the respect of paying attention to their use of language. If this doesn’t happen, I’m rather concerned about our, collective, future.