Homer Simpson’s boss believes that the term “Meltdown” is not appropriate at the nuclear power plant in which they work. He prefers to say, “’Meltdown’ is one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.”

To get an advantage in a persuasive argument, you need to control the definitions of the terms. If the facts work in your favor, use them. If they don’t, redefine the terms. If that won’t work, show how the opponent’s argument is less important than it may seem. Finally, if all else fails, claim the other side’s position is irrelevant.

Since facts are facts, let’s look at the next level of redefining terms. Here are some techniques for redefining terms:

  1. You can accept the opponents terms, but use them to create action for your advantage—“The insurance adjuster knows his job” from one side becomes “yes, he knows his job, but how do we make him DO his job?” for the other side.
  2. You can change the terms—“the insurance adjuster knows his job” becomes “no, he doesn’t know his job. He is acquainted with insurance.”
  3. You can redefine the terms—“the insurance adjuster knows his job” becomes “if ‘knowing your job’ means intentionally ignoring the rules, then he certainly knows his job.”

In all of these tactics, strive to find common language for your redefinitions, avoiding legalese, insuranceese, medicalese, or engineeringese, etc.ese.

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