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A typical sentence in a grant memo reads: “The initiative will ensure that necessary services and supports are community-based.” In this context, SUPPORTS shares the main appeal of CAPACITY: it means everything at once, and specifies nothing. (The context in which the word may have the most vivid meaning is in the realm of undergarments, about which the less said the better.) Most often, the word means nothing at all, but simply adds verbiage to an otherwise thin and unsatisfying mumble-a writer’s equivalent of Hamburger Helper.

Yet most foundation and nonprofit writers are not trying just to mutter random vacuities. They actually do mean to communicate something. They are simply unaware, it seems, that their meaning will forever remain their secret unless they come up with a more specific word than SUPPORTS. Might the quoted sentence have been referring to community-based counselors? doctors or nurses? child-care centers? lenders? police officers? It could just as easily mean any and all of these things. But the writer probably meant only one or two of them. It would have been best to say which ones.


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