Terminological inexactitude: do sport psychologists have a case to answer?

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


The British politician, Winston Churchill, first used the term “terminological inexactitude” in a Commons speech in 1906. It seems the original use was strictly literal, a long-winded way of referring to an inexact or inaccurate terminology. Now, however, it is widely considered an amusing euphemism for a lie. Without much effort we can all think of confused words and phrases from our own field of research and teaching that are inaccurate, misleading, misused, ambiguous and confusing. We caution students for such terminological inexactitude but are we also guilty of less than clear thinking and writing?
Throughout my teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate psychology degree courses, I have warned students about the “steep learning curve” in learning the “scientific method”. Most students recognise that a “steep learning curve” means the skill is difficult to master; however, according to learning theory, I misunderstood the term. A steep learning curve – a curve with a large positive slope – reflects learning a skill easily and quickly. And the “scientific method” rather than being a method is an approach to knowledge. The eminent philosopher of science, Karl Popper, quipped that “As a rule, I begin my lectures on Scientific Method by telling my students that the scientific method does not exist”. Leaning on the original meaning, this defence examines psychological terms to avoid or at least reconsider in writing and teaching. After all, science is an approach to better estimate the state of nature by lessening errors in inferences. Through clear writing, we promote clear thinking.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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