Listening to: Weird Al
Reading: The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language
Writing About: Language, communication, knowing you audience.
Also, don’t tell me what to do.
Leave me alone, Me talk good!
NPR recently had a linguist on the air
(please keep reading, it gets better)
He was talking about prescriptive Vs. descriptive grammar,
He built his whole argument on a simple point:
Do people understand what you are saying?
15 years ago I got an English Minor at a Liberal Arts School.
I didn’t take any grammar classes.
—as if to underscore my point, I just wrote a two word sentence—
So excuse this loose (but true) caricature of a ridiculous in-house English debate.
I make the Interns read Thomas Merton:
He is my all time favorite writer, on any subject. He knows what he is doing.
In the chapter we were discussing, Merton used some highly specialized language
to talk about standard Philosophical concepts:
Loaded phrases that hold all sorts of meaning and history in Philosophy circles;
but lose their power outside those circles.
The language wasn’t wrong.
But it didn’t communicate to the audience.
Another thing about the Interns:
As a youth minister, I spent a lot of time teaching young people
how to “give talks” (that is how youth ministers say “preach”)
Once, an intern gave a terrible talk.
Trust me, it was garbage.
Then, this dude has the nerve to tell me:
“Man, these kids just don’t listen”
Like it was their fault he bombed.
The problem was, the burden of communication is not on the listener.
It’s on the communicator.
If you’re not heard.
Maybe you didn’t say what you wanted to say.
Maybe you aren’t good at saying it in a way that makes sense to your audience.
“No one understands me:”
I hate to say this, but I am the kind of person that thinks that sort of thing.
As if all of the things I think about and like only live in my brain.
I laugh at inappropriate times and stumble in simple conversations.
“No One Understands Me” is a baloney self-defense mechanism.
It’s not really true.
But even if it were,
the burden of communication is mine,
If I want to be heard,
I have to speak in a way that makes sense to the listener.
Whoever that listener may be.