Bad Words

Here are three commonly used words that describe people. In my mind, they have a negative influence on the way we think about the folks we work with.

Consumer. Isn’t that a horrible word when used to describe people? How about something a little more respectful like customer? When I am a consumer, I am merely consuming goods and services in the same way that a car consumes gasoline, but as a customer I actively buy goods and services.

User. Being in the software development business, this word is used frequently to describe the good folks who work with (and purchase) our software, hardware, and technology products. In a previous life, I worked as a therapist in outpatient alcoholism and drug abuse treatment centers. User is what we called the people coming through our doors.

End User. Obviously a variant on user. Isn’t a bit redundant though to call a person an end user? If there is an end user, it would seem likely then, that somewhere there must be a beginning user.

Words like these depersonalize people, coloring the way some folks think about others. When we use language that accurately reflects who we do things for, it is more likely our software, customer service (think carefully about the meaning of those two words), and products will be designed to serve the “real people” who work with our stuff on a daily basis.

Those of you out there who are end users of my blog are welcome to comment. Being the consumers that you are, please suggest other words of the same genre.

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3 responses to “Bad Words

  1. These terms were used frequently back when I worked in our promotional marketing agency. If we had used the word “customer” in a presentation proposing to incent consumers with a call to action, we would not have gotten the work. I didn’t like it then either, and there was a distinct difference between the “user” (our customer, a corporation to which we sold our services/products) and the “end user” (the consumers targeted by our customers). I’m tired just thinking ’bout it! Excellent post.

  2. Isn’t language fascinating?

  3. Paula, I don’t know that I ever thought of language as “fascinating.” It certainly carries much more power than just the words being spoken or written. Certainly the way that people use words is a reflection of their inner self and feelings about the world around them.

    Wow! In writing those words it struck me how important that I attend to my own words when I am facing challenges in my relationships to folks around me.

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