From an evolutionary perspective, social behaviours are those which have fitness consequences for both the individual that performs the behaviour, and another individual. Over the last 43 years, a huge theoretical and empirical literature has developed on this topic. However, progress is often hindered by poor communication between scientists, with different people using the same term to mean different things, or different terms to mean the same thing. This can obscure what is biologically important, and what is not. The potential for such semantic confusion is greatest with interdisciplinary research. Our aim here is to address issues of semantic confusion that have arisen with research on the problem of cooperation. In particular, we: (i) discuss confusion over the terms kin selection, mutualism, mutual benefit, cooperation, altruism, reciprocal altruism, weak altruism, altruistic punishment, strong reciprocity, group selection and direct fitness; (ii) emphasize the need to distinguish between proximate (mechanism) and ultimate (survival value) explanations of behaviours. We draw examples from all areas, but especially recent work on humans and microbes.