Obviously, what you call something matters.  I mean, it needs to be identified, after all.  But what happens when we bastardize standard nomenclature in a given industry?  Yeah, I know, we figure it out eventually, but wouldn’t it be nice if we established a ‘standard’ and then kept it?  

Ok, I’ll explain further.  But first a story.  C.S. Lewis once commented on the use of the word ‘gentleman’.  The word gentleman once was a factual term.  If a man owned land, that person was called a gentleman.  The person could have been a downright louse, but if he owned land he could technically be called a gentleman.  Now, how this term was ever conceived, I’m not sure.  Possibly aspirational or hopeful i.e. ok, you are my landlord but you are also a gentle man…right?  

Anyway, fast forward to today. The term is no longer fact-based but value-based.  “Act like a gentleman”, we tell our boys and men.  We mean, of course, to imbue them with the embodiment of the terms ‘gentle’ and ‘man’.  One can only now be a gentleman if one is seen as embodying their understanding of what a ‘gentleman’ is.

The problem, of course, (well not really a problem, but a conundrum) is that now we move to other words to define land owner, but the term ‘gentleman’ is no longer a valid way of describing a land owner but is now used as a way to define a ‘good’ fellow…whatever ‘good’ means.

So, what does this have to do with accounting?

Well, as more and more accounting programs, CRMs, Project Management SAASs, etc. flood the market, we have many terms with which to call the money that comes in and the money that goes out.  I won’t rehash all of them but wouldn’t it be nice (sung to the Beach Boys tune) if we could all agree on a few key terms and everyone would abide?

Yeah, I know, pie in the sky wish, this is democracy, yada, yada.  But this actually does then become a ‘market’ decision because there is a value for consistency between programs.  For example, if revenue is referred to as sales…well, I understand the point, but I have ticket sales, donations, and investment income…each of which I broadly consider revenue.  And yeah, I may define my expenses as purchases but depreciation, for example, is an expense but not purchase.

You see my point? 

I’m not saying this a winnable argument, nor should it be, necessarily.  This may be an evolution (revolution) in the world of business.  Or even if it isn’t, I’m not naive enough to think something like logic wins in the marketplace, either. But in the universal language of accounting, it would be nice to have a few common, finite terms that we could all use to speak the same language.  Ah, but there is Babel, is there not?