Constant Analysis

I spend a lot of time thinking about…

language

What people mean when they say things. I have never been good at interpreting other meaning from written words. In verbal conversation there are extra sources of information. Facial expressions, body, vocalizations and tone add subtle differences in how the message is delivered. Words are words.

Twitter and Facebook are confusing because people write as though they are in the same room talking to you about something. Talking about something they are passionate about, they are able to recognize they are not in the same room talking and write in ALL CAPS to indicate emphasis. Most do not recognize that old teletype machines printed in all capitalisation. Sometimes the emphasis is lost.

Many years ago I was teaching math as an adjunct for a for profit community college style school operating in the city center in an old bank office building. The CIO who was located in New Jersey sent out an old policy memo about corporate computer usage, the student records database and other topics. The memo itself was full of misspelled words, grammatical errors and IT WAS PRINTED IN ALL CAPS. It was a plain text file (.txt) not associated with any word processor. I accepted the fact that it was corporate policy and therefore worthy of close scrutiny. But it was attached to an email to ALL in the company. I also understood based on my background that this policy paper had probably been written long ago – pre-Word or Wordperfect – and as such had not been proof read since. Many in management positions have a hard time with others, translate underlings, correcting their work product.

Many in the faculty room between classes checking email were giggling. The English teachers in our little school, especially so and some of us math teachers were amused. Language that is to say written language in policy statements should be precise otherwise ambiguity results and the policy for good or bad is ignored.

In a previous job with a boss who was also a friend, I would correct his errors and return his memos to him privately. It was something between us and over time he would give me his stuff to proof read. Sometimes I commented on the policy itself but usually I merely corrected misspelled words, grammar and adjusted sentence structure to enhance readability. This experience made me comfortable enough to suggest to the CIO in New Jersey that he should consider importing old policy memos into Word and enabling the spell and grammar check features before sending them to ALL. I also highlighted many of the grammatical and spelling errors and saved that to a second – AdobePDF – file and replied to his email but not to ALL.

He replied to me with, I do not like your attitude. I did not and still do not have any attitude about his mistake. People make mistakes even highly educated people. In my reply I pointed out that it is very hard to derive attitude from an email and if he needed any further assistance I would be happy to help. He did not reply to my offer.

more

I suppose I gained this propensity to read language in a precise fashion from my father. Early in my working career I worked with my dad at the same company. Once early one morning we were to have a meeting about a project we were both involved in. I arrived early for the meeting coffee in hand. On the green chalk board at the end of the conference room was my father’s handwriting. Printing actually, Dad rarely wrote anything in script, it said – Gary Dean is two four letter words. This sentence was so “my father” that it made me laugh out loud. Dad dearly loved puns and double meanings. Mr. Dean was Dad’s immediate supervisor and I suppose unfamiliar with Dad’s humor. He displayed displeasure with anyone scribbling on his board before the meeting began. The rest of us giggled.

I read for enjoyment. The best authors are able to make me see what they imagine in their mind as they write. The funny ones are a treasure.

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