Terminology and Meaning – What you heard wasn’t what I was saying

Learning new vocabulary must be part of beginning any new discipline.  It enables a way of speaking to colleagues with precision about ideas and concepts.  In my Introduction to Research course from Royal Roads University I’m finding terms that at first glance seem familiar, but then discover that by adding an “ism” or “ology” suffix or by combining it with another familiar word, it has become the label for a whole new *world of meaning, only peripherally related to my previous understanding of the common meaning of that word.

“Pragmatism” still means doing whatever works but as a research position, the scope of “whatever” is limited to the choice of research methods (Johnson & Christensen, 2014).  Place “research” behind the noun “action” and suddenly you are talking about self-determination, empowerment, and participation in system change (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998), very little of which the uninitiated could extrapolate from the words “action research”.

Another such term is “phenomenology”.  The dictionary’s simple definition of phenomenon fits my common understanding of the word I use for UFO sightings or religious ecstasies.  The popular definition however, is inadequate for understanding the research philosophy of phenomenology. The dictionary also lists a “Full Definition of PHENOMENON:” which gets closer to the heart of phenomenology, “an object or aspect known through the senses rather than by thought or intuition” (retrieved July 13, 2016 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenomenon) .

I usually prefer logical explanation over feeling, (feel free to apply a gender-stereotype label) but phenomenology with its emphasis on experiencing first hand instead of accepting society’s normal categorization of a phenomenon (Bentz & Shapiro, 1998) seemed so far out there I was drawn into trying to understand it.  In a future blog post I will enlist the concept of racism to scratch more deeply into the surface of this unusual philosophy of research.


Bentz, V. M., & Shapiro, J. J. (1998). Mindful Inquiry in Social Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.
Definition of PHENOMENON. (n.d.). Retrieved July 14, 2016, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/phenomenon
Johnson, R. B., & Christensen, L. (2014). Educational research: Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed approaches (5th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.


*In a non-academic moment I speculate that the masses where language evolved apparently had no need to speak of such esoteric matters.  When academics began pushing the boundaries of thought, having no ready vocabulary to express themselves, they appropriated common words and repurposed them.  In some sense they were the early adopters of the web.2.0 mantra, “reuse, remix, and redistribute”.

About Jim

Community Adult Educator & Adult Literacy Instructor
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7 Responses to Terminology and Meaning – What you heard wasn’t what I was saying

  1. Very interesting article, Jim. I enjoyed reading it. Yes, I do agree with you that academics seem to reuse and remix words to fit what they are trying to explain. And I have often wondered why. I think you put it kindly when you gave academia credit for being early proponents of the Web 2.0 mantra. I always suspected these words were simply a way to differentiate academia from mainstream society. I prefer the more commonplace words to allow everyone to understand me, but, I guess, I will have to start using these “other” words to be understood in the field of any particular research.

  2. Pingback: Terminology and Meaning II – What you’re saying is not what I’m feeling | WayUpNorth's Blog

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  5. I really enjoy reading your writing – I too struggle a bit with definitions, meanings and the application in our current RRU context. Phenomenology is really interesting to me and I didn’t even realize it was an ‘ology’. I am always the first to put myself in another persons ‘shoes’ to understand to immersing myself in a particular phenomenon won’t be a stretch.
    Looking forward to your next post.

  6. Was fascinated by your accounts of encounters with formal learning – I’ve had the opposite problem trying to write informally, amusingly etc after years of academic life. Having something worth saying is the prerequisite for success in any type of writing and IMHO you’ve no problem there! I think the rest of academic writing and research is mainly a matter of focus and study – it can be a grind at times. Best of luck but I don’t think you’ll need it!

    • Jim says:

      Yes, I’m finding it quite the grind here at the beginning. Thank you for the encouragement and confidence Gordon.

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