The folks in my life know that I’m a little obsessed with “linguistic precision” – the art of finding the most accurate words to describe the thing you want to say.
I love linguistic precision because I think it’s as close as we humans can get to a Vulcan mind meld. Language can be imprecise at the best of times, so I encourage people to make it a practice to get as precise as possible with the words they use.
Linguistic precision is not just about using big words. In fact, it’s most helpful when you don’t use big words. It’s about finding better words to describe our intentions or curiosities.
Linguistic precision is all about being understood. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”
Joy, pleasure, and understanding? Sounds good to me.
Here are five reasons to get more linguistically precise:
1. It can make your sexual requests easier to action.
Linguistic precision is powerful – so powerful that I consider it a superpower. In my “Become a Sexual Communication Superhero workshop,” I outline several sexual communication superpowers, one of which is (you guessed it) linguistic precision.
The ability to clearly articulate what you want and don’t want sexually can seriously upgrade the quality of sex you have.
The difference between “go down on me” and “I want you to lick me with your whole tongue and make it soft” can mean the difference between having OK sex and having sex that rocks your world.
Not all communication needs to be verbal, but verbal language is certainly an exquisite tool we have in our Homo sapiens toolbox. Why not use it to your full advantage?
2. It can help you be supportive to loved ones who are having a rough time.
Imagine someone you care about comes to you and they are experiencing some unpleasant feelings. You do the awesome thing and ask them if they want empathy or strategy (go you!). It may turnout that they want some empathic reflection – a few words that let them know you understand their feelings and needs.
Here’s where linguistic precision comes in. Rather than just saying, “That sucks,” try getting more specific. Are they feeling frustrated? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Tired? Angry? Try making a guess – “It sounds like you’re feeling…Is that accurate?”
Wrong guesses are cool, too. Sometimes, knowing how you don’t feel can be equally helpful in your process.
3. It can help prevent miscommunications.
When we get more precise in the language we use, we prevent all kinds of miscommunications. This benefits our intimate relationships, but also our work and family relationships as well.
When we use clearer language, it can also help to prevent misinterpretations. It’s easy to get in our own heads and interpret the situations around us based on the info at our disposal. It’s what our brains do.
But often in intimate scenarios, our interpretations can be based on incomplete data sets. How do we get better data? By getting more linguistically precise.
My mind immediate goes to the strap-on episode of Broad City. Abbi asks her new lover if he wants to “mix it up,” which he takes as a cue to bring out his harness and dildo. She just meant change sex positions.
While it makes for some great comedy, it’s not exactly best practice sexual communication.
4. It helps you create more exciting questions that are fun to answer.
If you’re a regular reader of my work, you know how enthusiastic I am about asking better questions. Upgrading your questions can upgrade your connection and your life in general.
Linguistic precision helps you craft questions that act as invitations. Even if your partner doesn’t have an answer right away, finding the answers together can be delicious foreplay.
Here are a few examples of some linguistically-precise sex questions to add to your repertoire. Feel free to change the language to make them sound more “you.”
“What kind of play sounds fun tonight/this morning/right now?”
“What would absolutely delight you?” (my personal favorite)
“Can you show me what you mean by rub/massage/spank?”
Conversely, you can switch these questions around into statements:
“You know what sounds fun tonight? Doing/playing/exploring ______.”
“You know what would absolutely delight me? ______________.”
“Let me show you what I mean by rub/massage/spank.”
5. It helps you connect more deeply to the people you love.
Linguistic precision is also about using language in more creative ways so that our intentions really register with the person we’re trying to connect with.
For example, the question “How are you?” can almost fade into the background. It’s asked so often, we barely register its meaning before we reply.
I was thinking about this recently at my neurologist’s office. I had a migraine and the receptionist asked me how I was. Without thinking, I said, “Fine thanks, how are you?” Clearly, I was not fine, but I was on conversational autopilot.
With the folks who are close to me, sometimes we’ll ask each other, “What’s alive in you today?” By that we mean, “What are the feelings – both positive and challenging – that have been coming up for you recently?”
Sure, it sounds a little touchy-feely, but language that gets us to more intimate connection often does. I choose to let go of that self-consciousness in favor of having the connection I really want. And linguistic precision helps me do that.
So find the words that delight you to say and help you connect to the people you love. It’s worth the time to find uncover those word gems.