Last week I worked with a group of corporate communicators at a global high-tech company headquartered in Washington, D.C. One of the group was being teased by his colleagues for using the word ubiquitous, well, ubiquitously. He used it everywhere.
I asked the writer, whom I will call Tom, whether by ubiquitous he meant "everywhere." He agreed. "Then why not use everywhere?" I asked. Tom told me that ubiquitous meant something different, and the distinction was important to him.
But would the distinction be important to the readers of Tom's articles, blog posts, newsletters, web pages, and Facebook entries? I don't think so. I am guessing that the information gatherers skimming Tom's work would understand everywhere perfectly, whereas ubiquitous might slow them down.
I also noticed a statement from President Obama on the radio. He was responding to a question about possible health care plans in the United States. He said, in part, "That is the trajectory we are on."
The President was talking about health care–not rockets. I wondered why he didn't say, "That is the path we are on." I assume that the President, similar to Tom, believes that trajectory has a meaning that path does not, and I agree with him. But is trajectory the right word for a communication meant for a huge, broad audience? No, I don't agree with that.
When corporate communicators are writing for potential investors, ubiquitous may be the appropriate word, but so may be everywhere. When the U.S. President is being interviewed with an audience as large as the stars, trajectory may be the best word, but so may be path.
I like to choose the simplest, accurate word so that the largest number of people will understand. Which words do you choose?