“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent.” The lovable elephant, Horton, made famous by Dr. Seuss, was making the statement to reassure the reader of his character. Now, if I applied the rhyme to myself, I’m not sure if the second part of the doggeral would be accurate. Still, it wouldn’t sound right to say, “…faithful, ninety-three percent.” It just doesn’t have the same ring to it. However, the initial assertion – I believe that I can stand by that. I am fairly steadfast in attempting to speak exactly what I intend to say. I even try to select the words carefully. Unfortunately, some things don’t always work out the way we expect. You see, words mean things…just not always what we think they do.
There is no question that, regardless of what I think I mean, someone out there can understand my words in a different way than I thought them. A case in point: Last week I posted a comment on a fairly popular site run by a fellow word-nerd (and when I say popular, I mean with other word-nerds). The word-nerd in charge had requested that we send in examples of regional differences in terminology. My mind immediately jumped to a running argu…sorry, discussion the Lovely Lady and I have had for years. I grew up in Texas calling the writing utensil which contains a flowing indelible material within it, a pen. Early in our relationship, she corrected me a time or two, instructing me that it was an ink pen, not simply a pen. We have agreed to disagree, but frequently, I’ll poke a little fun and ask if she thinks I am writing with a pig pen if I don’t refer to it by her term. Consequently, I used the pen/ink pen example in a post on the word-nerd’s site, calling attention to the difference between my (obviously) superior Texas vocabulary and the dialect of the “real South” (along with a few humorous examples of which pen could be meant, e.g., pig pen, state pen, etc.). I expected that the entire post would be taken in the spirit in which it was offered, as an amusing observation of the differences in vernacular between different regions. I was to be disappointed in that expectation. Immediately, a true Southerner from a different state wrote a scathing attack on me, calling me “some people”, with the description following which lumped me in with many who think that they are intellectually superior and that all Southerners were ignorant. I assure you that no such thing is true. I believe that every region has a full complement of ignoramuses (should that be ignorami?), and the South has no edge on the competition there. That said, it is evident that whatever it was the lady read, it wasn’t what I meant to say. I wrote an amendment, but the damage was done.
It seems that every time I think I’ve gotten the language conquered…each time I sit back after writing a note (or even one of these posts) and read it through one last time with the sure knowledge that it says exactly what I intended, to my great chagrin, something like this episode occurs. Communication, it would seem, is a tricky thing at best, possibly even a dangerous minefield in extreme cases. As I write this, I begin to wonder why I’ve chosen to write so many times, given the peril in which I place myself each time I make another attempt. Just my way of living dangerously, I guess. Some men climb rocks, some jump out of airplanes. I try to corral words into sentences and paragraphs, hopefully kept in line by correct punctuation and made comprehensible by lucid and logical placement of the words. I’ve had a rough landing or two, but no long-term damage has been done. So far. I hope you’ll be patient with me. I also hope you’ll correct me when I make stupid statements, or when I misspeak. I’m happy that the Lovely Lady feels the freedom to send me an email once in awhile after reading these blogs early in the morning. “Did you really mean…? Shouldn’t that be a semi-colon?” I hope you’ll feel the same liberty. Clarification never hurts and frequently makes a good thought profound.
While I’m contemplating elephants though, I can’t help thinking that their most storied trait is actually their astounding memory, not their faithfulness or communication skills. Why just the other day, I heard about a couple of the gigantic creatures who were lolling in the local water hole when the older one spied a turtle sunning himself on a log. Springing in action with an agility that belied his great size, he kicked the turtle a couple hundred feet through the air. Returning to his comrade, he was met with the query, “Why did you do that?” He explained that the turtle had bitten him on the trunk fifty years before. “How do you remember that?” asked the younger elephant. “Turtle recall,” came the emphatic reply.
Oh, now I’ll get letters from the turtle lovers. I had better stop while I’m ahead, shouldn’t I?
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
(George Bernard Shaw~Irish literary critic and playwright~1856-1950)
“The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean.”
(Robert Louis Stevenson~Scottish poet and author~1850-1894)