Some problems you can go off and solve on your own, like checking the circuit breakers when the lights go out, putting a bandage on a cut, or editing a manuscript with a print-out and pen. There are other problems that might require help: an auto engine not working, a hole in the roof, or maybe editing that manuscript, after all.

Then there are the big problems that have no clear answers, no experts who can rush in and fix the situation, and many people who are involved and must cooperate. Getting cooperation is impossible without communication and persuasion. That is where the mischief begins.

The process of communication becomes a battle, particularly when the stakes are high, like when money is concerned. Then people aren’t looking to cooperate. They want to win and one of the tools in doing so is controlling the conversation. That happens in various ways. The one for today is the most fundamental: defining terms.

Words compose thought. Set the meaning of the words and you begin to control how people think. That is why, when discussing gender identity, the term cis, or the majority orientation, becomes important. Call someone straight and that presumes that anything different is twisted or bent. Anyone different is immediately tainted by contrast.

Groups and individuals with interests will frequently try to hijack a conversation. Setting definitions is an important first step. Nothing should be surprising about it. The move is basic marketing and PR. When a company or government or other group is caught out on something, their first step will be an attempt to reset definitions. Someone didn’t like. They just misspoke, or maybe they pointed to alternative “facts.”

Redefinitions can take an action and turn its appearance into something else entirely. BuzzFeed News had an excellent piece on when, in the name of “economic development,” the South Bend, Indiana government under Pete Buttigieg tore down many homes of people of color. But, because it was development, presumably everything was fine. Unless you happened to be a person of color whose home was demolished without enough regard for why people’s homes might more justly and intelligently need help in repairs.

There is the terminology of the “side hustle” that has become popular in discussions of business and economics. Those who promote types of employment that give the maximum flexibility and leverage for employers and leave employees in a state of constant scrambling, or in side hustles that are actually part-time additional jobs to make ends meet, make the process sound liberating or glamorous, as Alissa Quart has noted. People take on the additional jobs because their first jobs don’t pay enough to live.

Read the rest of Erik Sherman’s article at Forbes