Word Choice Carries Baggage

Here’s a real-life example of how the nuance of word choice can undermine your intention when you get it wrong. I recently evaluated a speech in my Toastmasters club that was given by a native Spanish speaker from Venezuela. The speech was titled “Some Comments on Carrying Luggage” and recounted several entertaining vignettes behind the multiple last names the speaker’s father had bequeathed him.

Most of us are given a variation of a first, middle, and last name, but the speaker’s father, for various reasons of ego and stubbornness, had given him two unhyphenated last names. This caused the speaker many years of problems with such things as filling out applications, passports, credit cards, and other official documentation.

The speech was witty, engaging, and mostly successful except for one thing: the word “luggage” in the title. As the speaker recounted the challenges his name had brought him, the audience–myself included–was waiting for the speech’s title to kick in. What about the luggage?

What he had meant to use in the title was “baggage,” with its connotations of “heredity,” not “luggage.” As a result, as entertained as we all were, most of us did not catch the speech’s metaphor and subtext–the “baggage” that heredity can carry.

Mark White is president and a founding member of content26. Continue this conversation with him on Twitter @mwhitec26.