Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Don't worry -- it's just an oil spill

Oil Leak from Damaged Well in Gulf of Mexico [Detail with Description]
I love the words spill and leak.

Spill and leak are words that can have a variety of different meanings, depending on what you’re talking about or who you’re talking to.

For instance, if I accidentally hit my coffee mug, sending coffee flying across my desk, I’ll say, “I wasn’t watching what I was doing, I hit the mug with my elbow, and spilled it all over the place. Don’t worry about it, I’ll have it wiped up in a jiffy.”

Spill – a small word that implies there’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a little annoyance.

The word leak is another small word that I might use when it rains and the skylight doesn’t keep out all the moisture. If you walk through my kitchen and see water on the floor, I’ll say, “Yep, I’ve got a leak in my skylight. One of these days I’ll get up there and fix it. For now, we just wipe it up.”

Leak – a small word that again implies there’s nothing to worry about, it’s just a little annoyance.

Of course, spill and leak are also good to use if you’re trying to downplay the fact that you’ve made a huge error in judgment, one which will affect the lives of millions of people, kill countless numbers of wildlife, and ruin the natural balance of a fragile ecosystem for years to come.

For instance, if an oil platform were to blow up in the Gulf of Mexico and start hemorrhaging millions of gallons of oil into the ocean, you might say, “We weren't watching what we were doing, we lost the platform, thus causing an oil leak. But don’t worry – we’ll have the spill wiped up in a jiffy.”

You would never in your right mind use words like gush, flood, torrent, flow, surge, eruption, spew, or vomit to describe a pesky little spill or an irritating little leak. It would just give “the wrong impression.”

Spill and leak – small words that imply there’s nothing to worry about, everything will be O.K.

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking it’s time for a change in vocabulary.

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