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The Danger With the Same Word Meaning Different Things


The English language contains words which sound the same, but have different meanings. For example, the word “there” and the word “their” sound the same but have 2 different meanings. Other words in the English language can have various meanings. An example of this is the word love. If somebody says they love another, the meaning of love could encompass erotic love through to companionship love. The difficulty lies in one person speaking about love using their definition of love, while somebody listening hears the word love and interprets that according to their definition of love. Both are using the same word but both understand it in different ways.

This difference in meaning leads to misunderstanding and at times conflict. This sort of conflict is something that I see often in my practice.

A graphic example of this occurred one day when I had a couple who seemed to be making conflicting statements. They were expressing the things that they struggled with in their relationship. She was complaining that they never went out and he replied by saying we go out all the time. It just didn’t seem to make sense to people could have such a different view on such a simple thing. Realising that there must be a different meaning for the phrase “go out”, I asked each one in turn what “go out” means.

She replied that go out means to go to a restaurant or theater. He replied that “go out” means any time they go out together, which includes shopping etc. The difference meaning placed on the word “go out”, was causing conflict resulting in each one defending their position as the truth.

That’s why we need to make sure that we understand the other person’s meaning of the words that they use. We know that black is a particular colour, so when you say black there is basically a limited way that you can interpret that. Yet when you use words such as love you need to realise that there are many ways to express love. So what one person sees as love, can be different from another. The only way to learn how people use words differently, is to ask. Understanding the meaning that people put on various words, greatly increases your ability to correctly interpret what they are saying.

If it is possible for a word to have a range of meanings, check with the speaker to ensure that you understand the meaning attached to that word. For example, what does your partner mean when they are taking about needing intimacy? Is their understanding of the word the same as yours?

Need further clarification? Call Tracey at Startpoint Counselling on 07 34581725.



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