Thursday, January 13, 2011

Words With Two Meanings


1. An unintentional failure to notice or do something.
2. The action of overseeing something.

     I don't walk around thinking about how this word can be used in different ways, but it came up recently.  Because not only does it mean those two things, it could also mean both.  You could have been overseeing something, and not noticed something that happened.
    "What happened here?"
    "The oversight happened under my oversight."
 Hopefully, contextual clues help you out.
    "Due to my oversight, the company made millions of dollars."
That sounds good, so it's probably due to good supervision, not an unintentional failure.
    "Because of my oversight, all the customers ate bad mayonnaise and got really sick."
That sounds bad, so it probably was an unintentional failure.

     However, consider if you were not trying to make millions of dollars, or if you were just a bad supervisor.  Then those sentences have drastically different meaning.  
    "I was trying to lose tons of money, but because of an unintentional failure, the company made millions of dollars." 
   "I'm new at this job, so because of my supervision, all the customers ate bad mayonnaise and got really sick."  
 This last one may be an example of using both meanings at once. 

Consider an instance where context offers you nothing.
   "He was responsible for the oversight of over 112,000 hours of testing."  
This is a real world example.  I was concerned.  Did he supervise over 112,000 hours of testing, or was it his fault 112,000 hours of testing didn't get done?  One seems impressive, while the other a dismal failure. 
     Actually, I did have context, because this was for an award.  I doubted anyone would be receiving an award for neglecting 112,000 hours of testing.  It's not impossible he would get an award even if he had done that, but I didn't see him getting an award for doing that.  Plus, it's not something people would bring up.   I decided I wouldn't use the word oversight in award write-ups, due to the confusion.  We don't want to start handing out awards for people's unintentional failures.
     Intentional failures?  Well, that's nonfeasance.  We probably don't give awards for that either. 

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