You’ve probably noticed that Republicans and Democrats are constantly disagreeing on items in the news and on what might or might not be a legal issue. Sometimes it seems as though they don’t even speak the same language.
In a way, this is actually the case. Many times, the conflict occurs because of subtleties of meaning. There are a lot of confusing terms being kicked around. One side hears A when the other side thinks it actually said B. Today I’m explaining the nuances of some terms we frequently hear.
Let’s begin with a trio of confusing ones: matter, inquiry and investigation. Apparently, the FBI prefers to refer to an activity as a matter when they’ve just decided to look into something potentially fishy. They don’t want to say they’re conducting an investigation if they might have to back peddle. Clinton defenders claim that’s why Loretta Lynch told James Comey to refer to the emails fiasco as a matter.
Once there’s a whiff of smoke, agents will likely launch an inquiry to look for the fire. An inquiry is a gathering of more extensive information to decide who should be grilled like a rib-eye on your Weber. Most inquiries lead to a full-fledged investigation. In my opinion, if someone comes to your door to ask a few questions, it’s an inquiry. If they bring you down to their office and suggest you might want to have an attorney with you, we’re talking investigation.
Another way of putting this trio in perspective is that agents look into a matter, conduct an inquiry and pursue an investigation. The IRS will look into your tax return as a matter of course, conduct an audit if they find serious irregularities and pursue legal action against you if they think the money they recover will earn them a promotion.
This means that the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the recent presidential election and attempts to influence the outcome is serious business. Earlier inquiries into alleged hacks of Hillary Clinton’s private server—not so much.
Which brings us to another group that’s in the news a lot: allegedly, assumedly, supposedly and ostensibly. “When should I use which one?” you may be wondering.
Allegedly means something has been claimed by someone, usually without proof. It’s used mostly for legal cover. When in doubt, allege something happened or is true, as in “Donald Trump’s allegedly small hands.” (Unless you’ve actually measured them…)
Assumedly is what you believe to be true, based on available information. “Assumedly, Donald Trump should cut down on that chocolate cake.” Supposedly is what someone else claims to be true. “Supposedly, Melania feeds Donald too many Slovenian desserts.” These two are matters of opinion, not facts.
Ostensibly means it was demonstrated through someone’s actions or words. They want you to think something is true, but that’s often a cover for a different reality. “Trump refuses to release his tax returns, ostensibly because he’s being audited by the IRS.” Or “Ostensibly, Melania remained in Manhattan through June so that her son could finish his school term there.”
Our final grouping is wiggle, waffle, vacillate and clarify. These all have to do with how someone explains his changes in position on an issue. Or tries to.
Wiggling is done rapidly, with minimal sense of direction. A person wiggles when he just doesn’t want to get pinned down. Listen to any of Sean Spicer’s press conferences for some excellent examples of wiggling.
Waffling, on the other hand, is done more slowly than wiggling, and usually eventually results in a single switch in someone’s opinion, though it can take awhile to get there. Mitch McConnell waffled on calling for a vote on the Senate’s health care bill before the Fourth of July recess. He definitely would, he probably would and then he didn’t.
Vacillating is a back and forth motion, first to the left, then to the right, on a fairly regular tempo, like Trump’s position on certain aspects of health care insurance. It won’t be heartless. But even if the Senate version is as mean as the House one, pass it anyway. It won’t be repealed without immediately replacing it. But if they can’t pass a replacement, just repeal it. Someone who is vacillating my never reach a final decision on the issue at hand.
Clarify is an archaic term that means to carefully explain what you mean so there is absolutely no confusion about your position. No one in politics does that anymore so you might as well purge clarification from your lexicon.
I hope you’ve found these explanations edifying and elucidating. As you can see, it’s often difficult to be certain which term to use Just pick your favorite. No one else seems to care anymore anyway.