Precise language

May 25, 2022
 by Paul McGowan

Navigating through the different types of communicators inside and outside the company can be challenging.

For example, when speaking to our engineering group we use what I would term precise language. In this vernacular, a rectifier tube is radically different than an amplifier tube. A thick film resistor sounds and performs differently than its thin film counterpart. The language is precise and one needs to shift gears from normal everyday interpretative listening to that of the specific.

When we change gears and respond to a customer's request for help everything changes. We interact with a wide range of folks from electrical engineers to nuclear physicists to marketing managers to car mechanics. Each with a different knowledge base.

One great example of having to interpret what a non-engineer is attempting to convey can pretty easily be demonstrated with a look at our How to find and fix hum section of the website. After years of chasing our tails when someone emphatically insists they have a ground loop hum, we finally wised up and published two different audio files. One file has a 60Hz hum and the other 120Hz. One is caused by proximity pickup, the other from a potential ground loop.

The difference between the two is night and day when it comes to fixing the problem.

It's taken a number of years for me to learn when to switch on and off my precise language filter.

How many misunderstandings have occurred because the listener hasn't yet figured out how to switch on and off their precise filter?

What you say and what you mean are often understood differently.

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52 comments on “Precise language”

      1. FR,
        Only because you brought this up in what I thought was a audio blog...

        Admittedly in the US we have an ongoing balancing act, that needs to be revisited by both sides of this issue. Between the protections provided by the 4th Amendment (The Courts' interpretations of unreasonable search and seizure) and the 2nd Amendment Right to bear arms (which has limitations to ownership).

        btw: ~ 250,000 ytd with forceps and saline, but I don't blame the forcepts

        1. “Subjects range from personal stories, how to setup your system, news of the day, streaming, vinyl, tubes, transistors, loudspeakers, holographic imaging and more. Not much is sacred, and there’s rarely a mention of our own products.”

          How about that, i learned today that one of my nephews performed on an Octave Records recording. It’s a smaller world indeed!

        2. taj,
          If you had read & watched 'dr.goodears' link above my
          reply you would've seen that it was, in fact, he that
          "brought this up" what you thought is an audio blog...
          I just stated a fact.

          1. FR,
            My apologies. I make it a habit not to click on links.

            But, we may need to agree to disagree because it’s not the ‘criminally insane number of guns‘ it’s the number of ‘criminals and criminally insane’ in possession.

            You come up with a legal way to take their guns (hence my reference to our 4th Amendment) and maybe less will see the need for owning for self-defense. Just read the weekend stats for the City of Chicago. And, the lack of police support by the mayor and the AG.

            1. taj,
              It's just that the rest of us, particularly the UK, Australia & New Zealand dealt with this & now we have the guns off of our streets...we find it incomprehensible that the people of America (the leading country of the Western world) can't fix this.
              It's painful for everyone, not just Americans, to see 9 year old's get mown (mowed) down by unnecessary automatic weapons.
              Sure, have a hand-gun, if you must, but automatics in the hands of the general public??
              That's some crazy sh!t.

          2. I am the occasional cryptic poster, guilty as charged your honor. Sometimes, the best way to communicate with people is to drop the preamble and get right to the point with fewer spoken words, Especially when an audible or visual aid speaks comprehensively on the subject matter. It’s always best to ask a leading question and then listen.

            For example, Paul’s post last week regarding the phantom center channel. I simply posted a link to Steely Dan’s recording Aja. Now, if anyone took the time to choose to listen to the first song they would have seen the lead vocal mixed right smack dab in the middle of their two loudspeakers.

            It’s all in the mix baby,
            It’s all in the mix.

            Btw, one of the few cool things about Covid social distancing was the ability to learn how to communicate intent with just hand signals and facial gestures. Kinda/sorta like a nice game of charades, NFL players in a loud/noisy indoor football stadium or a touring rock band on stage.

            Gestalt linkage fwiw.

    1. I just read about this latest horror and watched the basketball guy's rant on the Youtube link Dr. Goodears posted. Good for him to have the balls to stand up and say what needs to be said.

      1. We look on in amazement. I think everyone does. Guns were banned within a year of the Dunblane Massacre in 1996. In London, a population of 9 million, we haven't had a single gun killing in 7 months. We have the same number of homicides annually as Denver. We get Boris instead.

  1. Message sent from the front line during the war.
    “Send reinforcements we’re going to advance”
    Message received at HQ after passing through a series of radio operators.
    “Send three and four pence we’re going to a dance”

  2. The beauty of imprecise language is that you can always ask,
    "Do you mean 'this' or do you mean 'that'?"
    "Are you sure?"

    Life teaches us to qualify.

  3. Imprecision when communicating….. nothing new

    The more technical a subject gets, the more specialized terms are needed.

    Or talk / listen / read… in vague generalities, nebulous concepts, the spin, and so on.

    The hum file tones are great… but then this question (observation) needs asking…
    The talk is always about full range 20-20KHz hearing and reproduction.

    If some one can’t pick out the difference between 60Hz and something an octave away (120Hz) then what does that say… can be answered on so many different levels….

  4. I would say good morning to everyone, but it’s not. My wife just landed in Sevilla Spain to attend her nephews wedding I texted her to let me know how she’s doing. I said we’re just over here counting dead school kids again. After the shooting in Buffalo nine days ago, she actually said, If it wasn’t for all our family here, I would move to a different country tomorrow. This place is so scary now, you can’t accidentally drive to slow without worrying about some moron shooting you for it. Maybe the reason I spend so much time upstairs in my music room, is besides the consoling effect of the music, it’s a relatively safe place. It’s beyond sad.

    1. 6 or 7 weeks ago I saw on the free to air news that shootings in America are
      up 43% since CoViD-19 hit the scene...I suspect that this is not 'fake news'.
      Canada's just up the road & Australia tightened it's gun laws right up back in, welcome Mr. & Mrs. Cramer 😉 ✌

      I know that we are a little further away but, what price your life?

      1. Violence with guns sucks. What’s the answer? Remove guns - don’t fix the human that pulls the trigger? No easy answers as society becomes more depraved.

        1. Hmmmmm. Let me think. Now, if I treated it as an engineer and looked at the problem, the one first world country with 100X the guns has 100X the shootings..... maybe there's something to ponder.

          1. Maybe.
            By that logic, the country that has 100x more cars has 100x more fatal accidents. Or the country that has 100x more killings has 100x more social deviates with no moral compasses and fewer consequences for that deviation from ‘norm’.

            Ban personal car use - ban anything where one can hurt themselves or others. Complete control of a society.
            Maybe some countries have it right. Total control no tolerance. Minimal freedoms. Maximum intolerance of differing points of view.

            Ban knives. Ban everything that can cause bodily harm. Don’t vilify - someone knows what is best for you and I.

            I think the situation is in unacceptable. I also think that that we differ on resolutions - one approach alone isn’t going to cure the scourge.

            1. No need to take it to the extremes, Mike. It really deadens/diffuses the point.

              Every country on the planet has somewhat similar problems. We all have mentally unstable people. The other countries have just figured out that if people don't have ready access to something then they can't use them.

              We seem to struggle with this concept and as I said before, it doesn't matter anymore because nothing will change. We are a nation with this as part of our heritage and we gotta just get used to the weekly massacres. Part and parcel of the country. The good and the bad.

              Again, let's move on to audio.

              1. Extremes - if only for a sake of discussion- help make points.

                As far as audio goes my earlier reply to todays post tried to stay on that topic.

                Believe it or not we’re more in agreement than what the written words may suggest.

                Thanks for the discussion.

      2. I really appreciate the invite. Over the years I’ve seen so many shows on TV about all the poison snakes, deadly spiders and not to forget the Sharks munching on the swimmers. I always thought that Australia was the most dangerous country in the world. I now realize that the USA is. None of those creatures carry guns. The main reason my wife and I won’t be leaving is our three beautiful grandsons ages 3-5. I can’t imagine anything happening to them. Keep rocken down under!!

        1. Mr. C,
          Unlike Mr Putin, if you don't bother said deadly spiders & snakes, sharks & jellyfish (Irukandji jellyfish) they will pretty-much leave you alone...ok, the sharks will bite you all over the world.
          Deaths here from the above-mentioned are far, far fewer than the deaths from gun-toting lunatics over there in The States...just sayin'.
          Admittedly the lure of sweet little grand-children is something that 'trumps' (hate that word) everything else 😉

  5. So true Paul, the misunderstandings of language and the violence have to stop! I don't know what else to type right now. Very somber this morning. 🙁
    Here we go again!

    1. Violence will stop when they take the precautions needed to stop it. Need more police and psychiatrists at schools to defend people in soft targets and identify those most at risk of doing violence and stop it. If gun control worked there wouldn't be so many shootings in Chicago, LA, NY where gun control is the strictest. Criminals do not obey gun laws so you can have as many gun laws as you want and it won't stop these shootings. They will get their guns on the black market if need be to carry out their evil. If you outlaw guns only outlaws will have them. Moreover if a nut wants to kill people they can make a pressure cooker device or mow a crowd of people down with a vehicle. It's what is in the heart of these people that needs to be controlled. Disarming law abiding citizens won't do it. Nobody from the NRA are doing these things nor are they funded by the government. On the other hand the government spends 500 million of our tax dollars a year murdering the unborn up until the day of their birth. But they always seem to blame the NRA or sane and responsible law abiding gun owners for these crimes. They don't talk about taking your car or pressure cooker away if those are used in mass killings. And neither of those are protected by the second amendment. 12 young people a day die from texting and driving. We can stop a lot of these if people stopped trying to use these tragedies for political reasons and work together on solutions that will work.

  6. Agreed, now to audio stuff. I'm rereading the "Hum Fix" on your site. Just got a new phono stage and to hum now is less than before but still there. Working through those suggestions. It's only when I select the input for the phono stage. No hum on any of the other inputs.

  7. Paul wrote the only insightful point here today: America's historical and political culture is the basis for the prevalence of firearms in America.

    I believe strongly in our Bill of Rights. But our citizens do pay a high price in the loss of innocent lives for the guarantee in our Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    Consider this: The U.S. has always had a high number of firearms per person. But school shootings are a relatively recent phenomenon.

    Why is the rise in school shootings so closely correlated with the rise of social media?

      1. Also don't forget that last one in locks the door.
        Would have averted this whole tragedy.
        We adults are responsible for children's safety and we cannot let our guard slip. I know this doesn't apply well to supermarkets and such.
        Sad state of affairs all around.

  8. As Teddy Bear Roosevelt said, "Speak softly and wield a long tonearm." 😎

    If guns are at the center of your identity, you need a new hobby.

  9. Engineering indeed speaks a unique language and uses things like different color pens to communicate. Poor communication can cause expensive mistakes and even disasters. A confident engineer accepts constructive criticism as it focuses and strengthens the design. The better the design the less chance of staying out of court.
    They also accept designing in a 5% world. Individual parts within the same lot code have variance. Analyzing and accounting for and working with electrical and mechanical tolerance stack-up is what sets them apart and makes the final product hopefully easy to build and fall within an acceptable window of upper and lower limits. My daughter-in-law is a jurist. I have a hard time communicating/understanding the language of this particular discipline. Words have precise meaning to them too. If you mess up on a design or mess up on your wording they may eat you alive…

  10. Dear Fat Rat,

    “…the criminally insane number of guns in America.” – Stephen Colbert

    This shockingly ignorant and inane statement proves that he knows nothing about American political history, American political culture, the United States Constitution, the criminal law of the State of Texas, the statistics about successful defensive firearms use or the definition of "insane."

    I hope that you could have said something better.

    1. Hi RonRes,
      First of all, I didn't say of your fellow American's said that.
      Ok, so here is "something better"
      I & most of the Western 'free world' vehemently disagree with you.
      America is so blinded by it's own 'gun culture' that you can't see it
      any other way...that is the saddest thing 🙁

  11. First, I am going to comment about what Paul posted. In technical discussions the words precise and accurate mean two different things, but to most people they mean the same thing. Accuracy is how close to the established standard is a given measurement. Precision is how repeatable a given measurement is ( i.e. how much does the measurement vary when it is repeated ). So if I were being very technical, I would say that Paul is talking about accurate language. 😉

    Now as to the horribleness of the yesterday and a week or so ago. All of us are horrified and outraged at what happened, but outrage is not going to solve the problem. Every politician from the dog catcher in Podunk to POTUS has his or hers theory on what must be done to stop this. Probably most of them are wrong. What is needed are cooler heads and better understanding of what has actually happened. If you are interested I suggest you start here:

    1. I wounder why they chose to cut the data off at 1920? My wife's great-great grandfather mustered into the confederacy after the Osceola MO massacre by "Jayhawkers" from KS. The town of 2,000 was burned and plundered and nine prominent citizens were killed. Locals including my wife's great-great grandpa were enraged and had to do something... like join the Confederacy! He was a 40 year old skilled blacksmith. Two years later he was dead.
      Clint Eastwoods The Outlaw Jose Wales was loosely based on it.
      I suppose the list would be to long?

  12. Thanks Paul,

    Good topic, and one which I can relate to.
    When I sold audio, the company had many sales meetings. Of course, they wanted to maximize the margins-to-time ratio, but they also wanted customers to feel heard, and an appropriate solution offered.

    One such meeting focused on body language, and customer’s eyes as they interacted with the salesman (audio consultant). This became ingrained in my interactions with people since that time in the mid-80s.

    For example, in one store location, we were quite close to the original Boeing offices, and we had a disproportionate of “cerebral customers”. While it was not my favorite group at the time, I had studied electronics and could talk in terms of specifications, but as I gained rapport with them, I could guide this to a listening session.
    This nudges the interaction from cerebral to emotional.


    As to the rest of the thread, I did not need to use any of these skills to know where they stand

    I’ll not pour fuel on that flame.

    PS many years ago, I did target shooting as a hobby - I’m lest with one small-clip handgun- just never got around to selling it… I think I won’t, but not because I need it.

  13. Not being hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobic, but rather pusillanimous and given to sesquipedalianism, bloviation and circumlocution, I love to gasconade, discombobulate and floccinaucinihilipilificate as I share my procacious effervescence with my approbative sycophants.

  14. Unfortunately, the future will probably look similar to the creation of the TSA after 911 whereby schools in the US, that have the resources, will be reinforced like a courthouse entrance with armed guards and a single file through metal detectors.

    On March 13, 1996 Thomas Hamilton walked into the gym of Dunblane Primary School in Britain and fired at children aged five and six gathered at a gym class. In minutes, 15 children and one teacher were dead. At least 17 others were injured before the attack ended with the gunman shooting himself.

    Eight days after the shooting, Britain’s parliament convened a tribunal headed by Lord W. Douglas Cullen, a senior Scottish judge at the time, to conduct a public inquiry into the shooting. In his report, Cullen wrote that the safety of the public could be better ensured by focusing efforts on the sale and availability of guns, rather than on the fitness of a potential buyer.

    “Despite the fact that there is room for improvement in the certification system I conclude that there are significant limitations in what can be done to exclude those who are unsuitable to have firearms and ammunition. There is no certain means of ruling out the onset of a mental illness of a type which gives rise to danger; or of identifying those whose personalities harbour dangerous propensities. On this ground alone it is insufficient protection for the public merely to tackle the individual rather than the gun.”

    Cullen recommended that the government either implement a system to disable handguns owned by individuals and keep them at sports clubs when they were not being used for sports purposes, or if that was not practical, consider banning multishot handguns.

    Britain might not have had the cult of the Second Amendment along with a powerfully funded gun lobby such as the National Rifle Association but it too had a culture of gun ownership and shooting for sport. Britain banned semi-automatic weapons after the attack at Dunblane Primary School.

    As far as gun laws are concerned here in the US, there were few armed police forces in municipalities when the Second Amendment was written in 1791. Automatic weapons today tend to be restricted to military and police organizations in most developed countries that permit the use of semi-automatic firearms. Automatic weapons are designed for warfare, hunting animals with an automatic weapon is not a sport!

    1. dr.g,
      I was watching an American news channel early this morning (Sydney time) &
      it showed a proud father instructing his 5 years old daughter how to shoot her
      painted pink rifle at a target...the fear, disdain & horror on that little girls face said it all.

      Then one of the news-readers proceeded to read out a list of American politicians
      & how many millions of US dollars that the NRA had paid them to stfu.

  15. dr. goodears,

    Great Britain was able to ban firearms because Great Britain has a majoritarian political system with no equivalent to the U.S. Bill of Rights to protect minorities from tyranny by the majority. The U.S. Constitution's focus on the preservation of individual liberties against a tyrannical majority is the most significant philosophical difference between our respective political systems.

    Any discussion of fully-automatic firearms is hysterical and inapposite. A fully-automatic firearm has never been used in a mass shooting in the United States.

    1. “A fully-automatic firearm has never been used in a mass shooting in the United States.”

      Well, yes sir, the St. Valentines Day Massacre is the granddaddy of all these American mass shootings.

      Las Vegas Strip Mass Shooting October 1, 2017 - The gunman fired more than 1,000 bullets from various weapons including bump stocks, killing 60 people and wounding 411. Bump firing is the act of using the recoil of a semi-automatic firearm to fire ammunition cartridges in rapid succession at a rate similar to that of automatic firearms.

      Sacramento Mass Shooting April 5, 2022 - A stolen firearm was converted to be used as a fully automatic weapon. Some handguns can be modified to fire like a machine gun. There had been suspicion that an automatic weapon was used in the shooting because video of the incident recorded rapid gunfire. The shooting left six people dead and a dozen more wounded. Officials estimate at least 100 shots were fired.

      Fully automatic, semi-automatic, the only difference between both types of firearms is in how the trigger maintains the firing sequence and both semi-automatic and automatic weapons load a new round into the chamber as soon as a bullet leaves the barrel. These assault weapons are designed for one purpose only and that’s to kill people quickly and in large numbers, hence the term assault style rifle.

      In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault-weapons ban, which banned semi-automatic rifles and the AR-15 assault rifle that the gunman used in Tuesday’s mass shooting. After its ban, mass shootings were down in the decade that followed, in comparison to the decade before (1984-94) and the one after (2004-14). Once the assault-weapons ban expired 10 years later in 2004, gun manufacturers quickly began production and sales rose.

      The gun industry, gun owners and their supporters say AR-15s are used for hunting, target practice and shooting competitions and should remain legal. Peace loving non-violent human beings believe they have no valid recreational use and civilians should not be allowed to own them.

      Just for the record, i have never handled nor fired a gun and if i ever encounter a shooter who wants to take me out, in that split second i’ll choose to be grateful and thankful for a great life.

  16. Dear dr. goodears,

    You concede that you know nothing about firearms as you have never handled or fired a gun, so I do not blame you for not understanding the inaccuracies you posted.
    "In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault-weapons ban, which banned semi-automatic rifles and the AR-15 assault rifle that the gunman used in Tuesday’s mass shooting. After its ban, mass shootings were down in the decade that followed, in comparison to the decade before (1984-94) and the one after (2004-14).

    This is FALSE.

    In fact, there was no drop in the number of attacks with "assault weapons," and virtually no change in total mass shootings, during the 1994-2004 ban. See

    "Once the assault-weapons ban expired 10 years later in 2004, gun manufacturers quickly began production and sales rose."

    Of course production and sales rose, because the product was no longer illegal. But note that all you can allege is that "production and sales rose" -- there was no increase in mass shootings!

    "Assault rifle" is a made-up term designed deliberately to obfuscate the distinctions between legal and illegal weapons, and to scare people into believing that perfectly conventional and legal weapons should be made illegal. In reality, so-called "assault weapons" are nothing more than recreational target and small-game hunting rifles. The AR-15 platform has a general design and certain features made to cosmetically resemble a military-type weapon.

    No semi-automatic rifle is a "weapon of war." There is no military organization in the world that fields merely semi-automatic rifles. Calling a semi-automatic rifle an "assault rifle" or a "weapon of war" has no meaning except to confuse the subject and to scare people unfamiliar with rifles. Semi-automatic rifles are not used by militaries in assaults or in wars.

    And the goal of semi-automatic guns, of course, is not merely to help hunters. Semi-automatic weapons, which automatically load the next cartridge in the magazine into the firing chamber after a single discharge, also are used defensively to protect people and to save lives.

  17. "Assault weapon" is, indeed, a term fabricated by detractors of the Second Amendment to confuse and to scare the public. In 2013, The Washington Post, looking into the history of the term, wrote of the term: "Many attribute its popularization to a 1988 paper written by gun-control activist and Violence Policy Center founder Josh Sugarmann.

    Sugarmann had written: “Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons." See Sugarmann, Josh (1988). "Assault Weapons and Accessories in America". Violence Policy Center. Retrieved February 26, 2005.

  18. A vocabulary of precise nouns and vivid verbs helps you create strong mental pictures and avoid wordiness reference Plagiarism is the use of another person thoughts and words with a failure to mention this person name. This is a common problem for students and the worst part is that you might end up in trouble if you don't intentionally steal anything.

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