It’s Embarrassing When People Abuse the Word “Caveat”
ca·ve·at (/ˈkavēˌat,ˈkävēˌät/) — noun
a warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations. (Oxford Dictionary)
I entered a teleconference yesterday, and within 90 seconds I had my answer. Thank God I didn’t make a drinking game of this, because I would’ve been hammered at 10:30 in the morning.
Someone made a point about how an upcoming major program would really change the game in my particular industry, and thumbs-up emojis popped up all over the group chat like acne on a pubescent teenager.
As is the case with many group settings, though, someone else had something more to add because they couldn’t stand not being heard.
“I want to caveat off what Tom* said,” he interjected. “I fully agree with his assessment, and we stand ready to support in any way we can!”
More thumbs-ups in the chat. I’m super thankful I remembered to mute my mic, because I groaned out loud and swore under my breath.
In my particular profession, “caveat” has been perverted into something suggesting agreement, affirmation, or simply adding more to what someone else has already said.
And it’s embarrassing. What’s more embarrassing, though, is when people nod and smile in person or affirm with emojis digitally when it happens.
I can deal with one person who tries to sound smarter than they are by using words they don’t know how to wield, but to sit in a room full of people who cheer it on?
What to do when people misuse words
I have a few tactics at my disposal when encountering this issue.
- Let it ride during a public situation, but pull the offending person aside privately. I only recommend this if you know the person and have a good relationship with them. If they tend to be the defensive sort, then this may not go well — just a warning from experience. If they are receptive, then you may have just saved someone from future embarrassment.
- Speak up in the meeting and model the correct word for agreeing with, pledging support to, or adding to the statement of the previous speaker. Instead of incorrectly using the word “caveat,” say something more like, “I have something to add to what Skeezix just said…” or, “I want to affirm their statement and pledge my support…”
- You can also use the word “caveat” correctly when the situation actually calls for it. This might look something like, “I appreciate you for your contribution, but I want to add a caveat to your statement because I have a concern with what you just said…”
- This one is a little more aggressive, but I have also been known to begin meetings that I am running by writing the word “caveat” on a marker board or flip chart, or creating a slide in my presentation with only that word on it at the very beginning, and asking participants to define it as an icebreaker. I figure it’s my meeting, so let’s nip this in the bud before anything else happens.
A caveat about correcting people using “caveat”
I don’t recommend stopping a meeting — especially one you aren’t in charge of — to correct the usage on the spot. In my less experienced years, I made that mistake and found out quickly that no one likes being publicly embarrassed after they’ve done something.
Be a good citizen and handle it professionally. But please, please, please, please, please, handle it.
I realize we can’t put out forest fires of ignorance with a water pistol, but millions of people armed with them might make a difference. That starts with responsibly and reasonably respectfully helping one person at a time or one group at a time preemptively.
Look, I’m trying to start a movement here. Won’t you join me?
*Not his real name