Words matter. They are the first introduction we have to groups, people, places, and events. Any person in public relations can tell you their importance in conveying an idea. First impressions matter and different words will cause different reactions (emotional) or conclusions (logical). Often we forgot to think about the listening we are creating with our words. Economic as we must be with words, there are some things which are hard, if not impossible, to avoid, especially in a brief label or title.
Take for example the Association of Public Diplomacy Scholars. The group is comprised of students pursuing a Masters in Public Diplomacy from the University of Southern California (and I believe other universities but USC’s APDS chapter is the most active). My friend John Brown criticized the use of “scholar” on his blog, describing it use as “pretentious.” John is not an angry old man shaking his cane (he’s neither angry nor with a cane, however he is old…), and yet, with the noted exception of Shawn Powers and Craig Hayden (also friends of mine), the reaction in the comments on his post were confused, aggressive and indicative of two groups not speaking the same language. Ironic considering the public diplomat’s need to understand the listening created by words and actions.
The APDS use of “scholar” denotes not a level of attainment but a condition or status. Here that condition is that of a graduate student. Even “academic” would not fit here.
Is “scholar” the best word? Perhaps not, but then on a broader level beyond the students, “public diplomacy” is a worse choice….