I went to Point A; my luggage went to Point B. To me, this was a clear case of lost luggage. But airlines are known for having many different definitions of lost luggage, one being luggage not returned to its owner within some specified number of days (a time period often longer than the duration of the trip for which it's missing).
This definition of lost luggage is valid, but you might see the situation differently if you are the affected "loser." Certainly if you are comparing airlines on their record of lost luggage, you'd want to know how they defined their terms - especially if you suspect that each had skillfully selected a definition that permitted it to look good relative to its competitors.
Most airlines now use terms like "delayed luggage" instead of "lost luggage," permitting a time span that can flexibly range from an hour to forever. Happily, my own luggage has had an excellent record in recent years of going where I go, so I'm less "definitional-ly" stressed.
One for Oil and Oil for One
We have to remember to always be on guard because even the most familiar terms can have multiple definitions. I once heard a story about two federal government agencies that generated reports counting the barrels of oil coming into the United States each month. When members of the two agencies met, they discovered that the data in their reports didn't match. Can you guess why?
The first possible reason seemed obvious. Oil is not simply oil; it encompasses numerous grades of crude and refined oil. So they adjusted for this difference and reran the reports. Still, the data didn't match.
Then they remembered that the definition of the United States varies. In certain situations, the US encompasses not just the 50 states, but certain Caribbean islands as well. So they adjusted for the definition and reran the reports. But alas, the data still didn't match.
Hmmm…barrels of oil into the US per month. What else could it be? Month! It seems that one agency tracked barrels of oil based on calendar months. The other, for reasons that undoubtedly made sense for its specialized functions, tracked from the twentieth of each month to the nineteenth of the next.
Adjusting for this difference, they reran their reports yet again. This time their data were (and I'm just quoting here) close enough for government work!
To minimize ambiguity, we need to question definitions and seek clarification. Invariably, it's the most familiar terms - the ones whose meanings are obvious - that cause the greatest confusion. In developing systems and reviewing reports, it pays to have a questioning mind.