Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Confusion of Language

Returning to my entry from August sixth, I'd like to discuss two specific examples of 'the disconnect between what people say and what they mean.' Perhaps a better way to put it would be the double-interpretation of words or phrases.

On a recent outing a friend of mine brought one of these such phrases to my attention. That phrase being 'slept with.' As in, "I slept with him/her." This could be interpreted in one of two ways. First, that the individual literally and platonically slept with the person in question, or second, that the individual had sex with the person in question. Today, most people would assume the latter meaning over the former. The problem with this is that there is no way to be sure how the message will be interpreted without being explicit in the details. "I slept with him/her" is far more subtle than "I had sex with him/her."

Consider the following scenario: Person A tells Person B that they 'slept with' Person C. Person B misunderstands Person A's meaning and tells Person D that Person A and Person C had sex. Person D tells Person E, who tells Person F, and so on. Eventually Person C comes to Person A angry, because the rumour made its way to their partner and their relationship is now standing on shards of broken glass. This is of course, a worst-case scenario, but it demonstrates the potential fallout from the misinterpretation of language. The message is clear: say what you intend to say plainly, and make sure the other person knows what you mean. (Really, it would help all us unperceptive folks.)

My second example is more specific, and involves the use of the word 'girlfriend.' When a man uses the word 'girlfriend' the meaning is usually clear: it's his romantic interest. When a woman uses the term, it's simply a friend. But what if that woman is a lesbian? Does she mean a romantic interest or a platonic friend?

There is also a double standard here. If a man where to use the term 'boyfriend' he may be accused of being gay, even if he only meant it in a platonic sense. Not that there is anything wrong with being gay; it is simply that in some social circles being gay is considered undesirable and some people may wish to avoid that association.

I think there is definitely a muddying of the waters and a 'communication breakdown' occurring in the modern vernacular. Political correctness may have something to do with this, but that is a topic for another time. (Sorry segue fans.)

1 comment:

Anthony said...

The whole "girlfriend" thing is just a sign of the times. The now-ambiguous word can hide the lesbian from plain sight and also, it shows the onset of a cultural paradigm shift. Women are becoming more and more bi-curious and soon it will be the norm. Just look at other cultures in history when men would partake in each other's company e.g. Spartans, the Scythians, and the Greeks. Women will have their turn and so eventually American women are going to bed each other and nobody is going to bat an eye.