Thursday, August 25, 2016

Watching My Language

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

No, this isn't about my saying rude things to the computer when it doesn't work the way it's supposed to. This is about wording choices in general. It's easy nowadays to have a misunderstanding, especially on the Web. At The Question Evolution Project, I made a remark about "st00pid dumb Xtians" that someone disliked. Mayhaps he was in a in a bit of a hurry, and sent a message:
What is an Xtian??? If you don't have enough respect to spell out Christian, then you have little, or no power, to persuade. I will unfollow you.
Since he wrote, I figured he would let me reply, so I wrote back:
No need to get all excited, I also said "st00pid dumb" in that sentence. It was sarcasm on how anti-Christians treat us, and I have been called that several times - but not by Christians. Although "Xtian" (or "Xian") is considered by some to be a legitimate abbreviation, I don't use it unless I'm being sarcastic about professing atheists who like to attack us.
He was mollified by this, and after we exchanged a few more messages, I realized that he gave me the inspiration for this here article.

Our language choices, phrasing, humor, other things can complicate communication and even cause misunderstanding. There are several reasons for this. I suggest that we take things slow and check before getting angry.
Image credit: Pixabay / geralt
The Bible isn't the only place that context is important. I have been hurt, and I have hurt people, through misunderstandings. This troubles me. Often times, it's word choice and the way they're used that cause confusion. Add to this the increasingly frantic pace of society (seems that people are more interested in captioned pictures than quality articles, for instance), so things are read quickly. I've had some long articles that had to be split into two parts because I thought I'd lose readers if I left them running long.

Another factor is people's grasp of language. Some people have excellent vocabularies, others not so much. Then you can have someone with your language as their second language. I've made jokes that were not understood and had to be explained.

I believe we all tend to expect that people are reasonably intelligent and know where we're coming from, but sometimes we can over-assume. I've heard remarks on theological and science podcasts that I couldn't repeat that to co-workers because I don't know which of them would understand the references. Not a slur on their intelligence, but a simple fact that some of us catch specialized lingo and others do not.

My offbeat sense of humor and desire to add some personality or color to things are also personal complicating factors that can cause confusion.

"I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
— Attributed to several people, actual source unknown

Let me give you a small piece of advice, Pilgrim. Slow down and check. The fellow I mentioned above was initially incensed, but he checked with me, and let me explain myself. Here's another example. While talking with the lady that cuts my hair, the topic wandered and I said, "I like sets". She said, "I don't know what that means". I told her, "Matching fragrance in soaps, shampoo —" She interrupted, "Oh, you mean sets!" I really think she thought I said, "I like sex", and was trying to get her to do the Mattress Mambo with me. Glad she took it slow and didn't get angry at something she didn't hear correctly.

Meanwhile, I still have to deal with my odd sense of humor, language and vocabulary difficulties, and today's hasty society. But I still feel bad when someone gets a meaning out of what I said that wasn't intended — especially when I stated something poorly.