The English language is a beast to master. Even after hundreds, if not thousands, of classroom hours, not to mention everyday usage, it is still easy for us to get it wrong. Here’s an example I always smile at: when two words that should be opposites mean the exact same thing.

Try the “up/down” pair. When I say “up” to you, which way do your eyes move? Towards the ceiling, right? And “down” should have the opposite effect. But there are many times when this is not the case:

  • You went to school and got a beat down as the bully beat you up.
  • Your relationship has broken down and now you and your significant other have broken up.
  • You want to go out in the evening but you can’t. You’re tied down – tied up with other commitments.
  • In the classic 1974 song “Kung Fu Fighting” by Carl Douglas (we all know the words) they were “chopping men up” and “chopping men down”
  • Finally, on the game show The Price Is Right, they tell you to “come on down!” when in reality you’re coming on up to the stage.

Gotta love it, right? Most of these could be eliminated just by skipping the vernacular. That’s just not the way things go, usually.

The point of this story is a simple one. Whenever you communicate with a client (or a vendor, for that matter), the words you choose are important. Make sure that you are specific as possible when writing final system documents so that there is no room for misinterpretation. This applies to emails, too. I’n not saying that you have to be boring when writing. What is important, though, is that everything you present in writing should be clear and concise. Include no extra phrases or such that could possibly be read the wrong way later on. And even if you did get an award in High School for Creative Writing, it is important to remember that technology is a foreign language to all of us at the best of times. It remains chock full of confusing jargon, with new words and concepts every day. It pays to be simple and straight to the point if at all possible.

Unless you really want your grandmother to think that you work in a supermarket, because where else could you be attacked by spam every week?

-Jeffrey Bromberger, Consultant & CISA, CRISC

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