Understanding, Even though It's Wrong, Makes It Write.

I was in the office earlier this year, at the Ithaca Times, and overheard the newspaper’s Arts and Entertainment Editor, Natasha Pickowicz, correct an intern when he responded to her polite, passer-by inquisition of “How are you,” with an I’m-excited-to-be-here response, saying “Good.” She replied, “Good is a question of morality.” As to say, a respondent has to have helped a nun cross the street, before entering the office, to use that answer. I thought about this brief conversation on and off for a few weeks after. More importantly, I considered, over and over again, what’s the importance of such word-choices in daily conversations. Did the young intern receive his overt-correction justly? Or, was he unknowingly correct.
A common understanding...must be met
The answer is embedded in a core communication concept, shown in the Shannon-Schramm Communication model. I selected this model because of its inclusion of the “Fields of Experience” sections. These fields include languages, age groups, races, culture, etc. Furthermore, these and other factors contribute to the way people interpret the, ostensibly powerful, spoken word. The point is that people’s backgrounds determine how a word is understood.

Now, the purpose of communication is either to inform or persuade. To accomplish these goals, a common understanding of what is being said must be met. Right?

Well, since we can understand others based on similar backgrounds, there is no reason to worry about proper word choice, as long as both parties correctly understand the message.

Others might argue, “oh, but, we need to have common understanding of a word to communicate properly.” I say, take a close look at the Idiom. It’s meaning is determined by background similarities between the communication’s participants.

In retrospective, the young intern was deserving of a different response from his talented criticizer. Because he, although not aware, was correct. Furthermore, Pickowicz must have know what the boy wanted to say in order to correct him so quickly. Thus, the purpose of the communication was fulfilled.


Rick Short said...

Grammar is an area of great interest to me - so THANK YOU for this post. I agree that language SHOULD evolve. But I also feel that we should enforce rules. The times I have assisted a friend teaching college Marketing and Business classes, I was appalled by the grammar of the students. At times I could barely understand their answers as I corrected exams. When I travel internationally (and speak English) I note my connections are eager to continue learning English as a second language while we converse. I shudder thinking of my friend's college students graduating, then travelling on business and teaching "their" version of the language to eager ears the same way I shudder when I realize that these college students learned their version of English from VH-1 reality shows. Someone has to stand up and teach the proper way. I'd love to learn more about the Shannon-Schramm Communications model. Thank you.

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