The article by Fred Leise was very insightul – pointing out the power of a controlled vocabulary to help a user effectively query a database. The explanation of the need for authority files and hierarchical relationships (broader term and narrower term) was also quite clear. However, I question the assertion that the intended meaning of even simple terms can be understood by almost everyone.
The example is given in the article of The Gap (clothing store) with the indication that the controlled vocabulary (along with the accompanying pictures) make the meaning perfectly clear. As one reader responded in the comments of the article, there is plenty of room for misinterpretation – even by speakers of the same language. The Gap uses the term “bottoms and pants.” In the United Kingdom, pants refer specifically to underwear.
As I discovered one evening in London, even a simple request for “cream” for my tea had negative results when Housekeeping arrived with several small containers of “clotted cream.” This product is great for spreading on scones – but of no use to a cup of tea.