Tag Archives: cultural icon

Do you KNOW what I mean?

Ahh, semantics. This is a major stumbling block in the world today. Communication is the key, everyone agrees, but how can we know what each other mean when we all have different meanings for the same words? Take the word “semantics” itself—I know what I mean, but I don’t even know the definition. Let me look it up: semantics n. – the meaning, or an interpretation of the meaning, of a word, sign, sentence, etc. Yup, pretty much what I thought, how about you? I like the bit about “an interpretation of the meaning”— you see, that’s where it gets goofed up. We all have to make a rapid interpretation of everything we hear. So rapid in fact that we couldn’t possibly think, consciously, about meanings as we hear them. We have to rely, with incredible faith, on what our brain “feels” about what was said. “Feels?” yeah, I had to stop and think a moment after writing that. We have an extremely complex structure of associations, memories and emotions attached to every word we have learned. The common ones are so ingrained with repetition that their meanings are fairly secure, but others might actually remind you of the person or group with which you first heard them utilized. Yet we have to rely on a split-second interpretation of these words within the context of the situation. From this accomplishment alone I believe we all deserve some respect!
Now let me be chauvinist for a moment (whoa! Emotions! How do you feel about that word?) I’ve noticed, in my near half-century on the planet, that you ladies tend to make far more rapid interpretations of words than the average guy. That can be really great when the interpretation is correct. Unfortunately for me, I’ve often chosen the wrong word and find myself hearing a response to something I didn’t mean to say. This is one reason I’ve enjoyed being a foreigner amongst foreigners—we are less likely to assume we understand what each other mean.

 The emotional associations are what make communication difficult, especially with words that have a plethora (like that?) of connotations. This is why a person can hardly use the word “God” in society anymore—there are just too many possible meanings, and way too much emotion attached. Then there are hot-button words, like “liberal” and “conservative” (you just got an attitude, didn’t you?) Words are such fun, charming, gay, sincere, ubiquitous, colloquial, mystical, numinous, sublime inventions. Know what I mean?

original oil painting available at artbylowell.com


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