Communicating Descriptively, Comparatively, and In Context:

Using “in Terms of,” “in Relation to,” and Other Terms to Avoid Confusion and Clarify Semantics in Communication

To avoid confusion and clarify semantics, one should speak “in terms of” a subject and “in relation to” another subject, and then explain their position from there.

A simple example being the statement: “In terms of major holidays, I favor Christmas over Thanksgiving, in relation to the amount of presents I get.”

After-all, saying the above is a lot more insightful than saying “I like Christmas better than Thanksgiving,” “Christmas is my favorite Holiday,” or simply “I like Christmas.”

In other words, by offering context and specifics, and by using descriptive and comparative terms like “in terms of” and “in relation to” (or “regarding,” “in respect to,” “compared with” or other “descriptive terms” that are sometimes used as synonyms), we increase communication value and limit miscommunication.

Below I’ll use political examples to illustrate this concept further, because I’ve been writing about left-right politics, and thus it is what is on my mind… Plus, can you think of an area of life that needs a lesson on avoiding confusion and clarifying semantics more than politics? 😀

TIPLanguage is symbolic, and the terms we use to communicate tend to mean a vast array of things in different contexts. To limit miscommunication we can speak in “descriptive terms” using phrases like “in terms of” or “in relation to.”

TIP: To phrase the introduction a different way: In terms of communication, in relation to clarifying semantics and communicating effectively, one should use descriptive terms that denote specific positions and then explain things from there.

Example of Speaking “in Terms of” and “in Relation to”

For another example,

“In terms of healthcare policy, in relation to left-wing and right-wing politics, I am socially left-wing (in terms of social equality) compared to a small government conservative who favors social hierarchy.

Thus, in terms of the economic and moral factors regarding healthcare policy, in relation to healthcare as a human right, even with economic factors considered, I strongly favor expanding healthcare on moral and ethical grounds. Given this, I think we should consider economics, issues of increasing government size, and issues of liberty as secondary factors in the healthcare debate.”

That description may have been a little long-winded, but it is a much less confusing and much more descriptive than saying “I am left-wing” or “I favor healthcare expansion.”

Those are broad statements, they are open to interpretation by the listener, they are likely not always true, and most importantly they don’t tell the person we are communicating with much about our specific position or why we have it.

Here we can note that this is part of a broader subject, and that is “using Descriptive and Comparative Terms” and the exact phasing of “in terms of” and “in relation to” can be replaced with any similar phrase (this is a formal/informal system).

One should also note that I’m generally favoring descriptive words like “the economic and moral factors regarding healthcare policy” instead of just “healthcare,” but that isn’t the only trick i’m using.

Speaking of other related tricks that build on this theory, sometimes I use terms like “sphere” (AKA category) to help sentences flow.

So for example, “in the socioeconomic sphere” (we are talking about economics, social relations, and politics) “in terms of” the morality of supply side economics (we are talking about morality in the socioeconomic sphere) “in relation to” corporate influence in government (so, the morality of corporate influence as it pertains to economics), I disapprove of entities who push the old trickle down theory via questionable means (i.e. from a moral perspective on economy and politics, I don’t approve of entities who use corporate influence to influence government economically for their own ideological ends and monetary gains).

When we pair the above logic with the art of using categories and the art of abstraction, we get an “almost” formal system which is beyond useful “in terms of” rhetoric and analysis in the social sciences.

In other words, in general terms, this is as simple as remembering to use details and phrases like “in terms of” and “in relation to” when discussing things (to denote the category and to denote what category you are relating the term to), and it is as complex as the philosophy of language and the subject of categorization.

With that in mind, one last example before we end this, this time from a right-wing perspective:

Instead of saying “I’m right-wing,” we can say, “I’m right-wing in terms of favoring protectionist policy in the economic sphere, compared to a more socially left-wing ideology that favors free-trade and globalism, because I favor social equality within my nation, and logically that necessarily requires a degree of protectionism; this is to say, my moral and ethical responsibility in terms of social equality regarding my countrymen overrides my ethic and moral responsibility to the people of other nations; it is a matter of pure physics and logic in relation to economics, not just a moral issue.“

MUSING: One of the main issues at the heart of the Civil War was “one side was arguing economics, but ignoring morality to some degree, and the other side was arguing morality, but ignoring economic arguments to some degree.” Sure saying, “I am morally opposed to slavery, but don’t want the abolition of it to result in the poor white farmer becoming a wage slave,” might not have won the war without bloodshed, but at the same time going back and reading Calhoun to Lincoln I still don’t see a lot of orators respecting both positions and seeking a moderate, yet still morally correct position. Speaking in descriptive terms helps us to understand situations like this and how to work our way out of them (on-paper, to some degree at least).


"How to Avoid Confusion and Clarify Semantics by Speaking “in Terms of” and “in Relation to”" is tagged with: Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Theories

What do you think?