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  • Writer's pictureMatt Hays

Can We Align on Terminology?

In the A/E/C/RE world, we don't always WANT to use words consistently. Vagueness can help our point, we might not have enough data, and sometimes we like streamlined vernacular.

But I'll make a plea from the reader perspective: Clear language is helpful! And it's all the more important when readers are trying to parse data from what you write. (I admit I'm not perfect either.)

Here are some frequent examples

High vs. tall. When a person is high (ha ha, let it out), they're standing in a high place. Tall refers to their own height. Can we use the same definitions for buildings, and call them x feet tall? Bridge spans are still high because those can reference single points.

Homes. If you build multifamily and say "homes and apartments," you have a problem! Are your apartments not homes? House is more specific.

Studio-bedroom apartments. These don't exist, yet people write "studio, one-, and two-bedroom units." Sometimes you need more than one "and" in a sentence: "studios and one- and two-bedroom units."

Square feet. The term is clear, but what are you counting? The rentable area, the gross usable, or everything including the parking?

Project cost. Publicly-shared cost figures tend to represent what the client wants, which might be the smallest or largest number possible. These can range from shell and core construction to everything imaginable—soft costs, land, tenant improvements, and even finance cost. Our hands are often tied, but clarity is great when it happens.

Construction start. Owners like to control this too. But can we agree that, really, a project is started when there's a broad notice to proceed, a financial path, a shoring permit, and steel in the ground?

Owner. This is the developer/agency/client who owns the project. Apologies for being unclear in the paragraph above.

Value engineering. VE isn't replacing the pool with a patio. It's finding a way to cut a hundred grand off the pool.

And now for sports

It's NFL playoff season and that's great, aside from the incessant commercials making it necessary to have multiple alternate stations, a side activity, and/or a mute button. And aside from Seattle's absence of course. The announcers are fertile ground for isms and unclear language. Here are a few:

I had the opportunity to meet. Great! Did you actually meet the person? If so, say it directly! We all have opportunities to do things we don't do, like dancing the Macarena.

Chippy. No, not Clippy, Microsoft's animated annoyance that caused my search and destroy mission the instant it arrived. Chippy is the standard term for when players are fighting, shoving, or in each other's faces between plays. It's ok but repetitive. Maybe we need a synonym or two.

Skills. In the real world, skills are learned. But in the NFL they're natural physical capabilities. Guys, skills don't diminish because you're slightly slower this year.

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