Tuesday, May 16, 2006

today : misunderstoodings

Every pedant knows that when Juliet asks 'wherefore art thou Romeo?' that firstly, she is speaking rhetorically and that secondly she is NOT - I repeat not! - asking him where he is. The clue, as every pedant knows, is in the 'fore' bit on the end of the word 'there', which distinguishes it from the word 'there' by adding some extra letters i.e. F.O.R.E. If Romeo were to answer "Over here" as he often is jokingly misquoted as doing, he would be elliptically implying that his name was not Romeo but actually Overhere. And that's such a daft name that not even ChrisandGwynny would call their child that.

Language, as Steven Pinker or Noam Chomski might say, is often completely crackers. More importantly, people spend much of their time just wilfully not listening to anything anyone else says. How else can you explain those people who refuse to believe Simon Cowell when he says that their caterwauling audition was truly terrible and that they are not actually going to Hollywood?

There's a lot of tabloid Daily Maily kind of anger around in Britain at the moment about criminals. It's the perennial 'debate' that the papers bring up when they want to chip away at the government. Criminals and immigrants are always the pressure point. It's actually an early sign that the Right Wing press are seeing the possibility that the Cameron led Tory party might win next time. It's the start of the campaign, where the seeds of discontent are planted over issues that are pretty much unresolvable and it deflects away from the real issues.

Sentencing is a key issue here. People get very upset over the fact that criminals don't ever serve their full sentence. They do, of course. But nobody seems to explain to the general public that a 'sentence' doesn't only mean prison. If someone gets a ten year sentence, it might be that five years of it is spent in prison and five years spent out of prison under probation and supervision. If sentencing was worded thus: "you will spend five years in prison and five years on probation", then everyone would understand the nature of sentencing and nobody would be able to complain and therefore engage in what is essentially a bogus debate.

The world is full of stuff that just isn't explained properly. Finance and economics for example. When the financial news comes on and talks about long bonds and interest rates and exchange rates and money supplies and whatever none of it is ever explained. Now I am one of those nerdy people who read books about economics and what-not, so I understand what all those figures are that pack the screen on MSNBC and Bloomberg mean, but your average person, I'll wager is completely confounded. I think that in this case the non-explanation is deliberate. The rich just don't want everyone else to know that:
a] it's all smoke and mirrors and
b] whatever happens, they are fleecing us to make themselves richer

But my main point here is that when people DO bother to listen, often the explanations are inadequate, or completely misinterpreted. We could come up with loads of examples. My current bug-bear is Darwin. He was writing over a century ago, so language hasn't changed too much (unlike in the King James Bible phrase 'suffer the little children', which needs a major translation because it actually has nothing to do with the pain and suffering of children, but is an entreaty from God for people to 'allow' children to go to Him, because in 1601 the word suffer meant 'allow'). But it has changed a bit, and Darwin needs to be slightly translated. When he wrote the phrase 'survival of the fittest' he was talking about how genetically the 'most appropriate' organism for the environment is the one that survives. Yet each time I hear the phrase it has been both misunderstood and misused. Especially in business. It's a cliched excuse that currency trader types use for being odiously aggressive. He was NOT talking about survival of the most macho and people who go to the gym most often.

So, I ask, wherefore do people misunderstand? It is because only fittest language should be used when explaining problematic concepts. On the off chance that people are listening, we should suffer them to understand.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:45 AM

    Super color scheme, I like it! Good job. Go on.