• Dana Webster

Communication Breakdown

Updated: May 25

I once met a boy (who I could easily have fallen in love with were I not getting on a train the very next morning and heading out west) who was studying Linguistics (the study of language, how it works, how it is acquired, and how people use it to communicate). Given my love of language and languages (my France French and Latin American Spanish are pretty darn passable), I was fascinated by the subject. Okay, the fascination may have been augmented by the ridiculously cute and smart fella who was doing the talking.


I love how language evolves, how old words take on new meanings or new words take on old meanings. The development of language is, without a doubt, as fluid and ever-changing as a river. As a writer, I love to play with words and phrasing. I like to take old hat and turn it on its nose to see how it sounds, and if it makes sense. I wish I were a poet but I lack the free-flowing vibe and mot juste of my most admired poets (like this beauty from Maya Angelou).


So, back to the language-loving hottie. I asked him what was most surprising about studying language and he replied it was when he realized most people are not really saying what they mean to say, that we so often get the words wrong especially when we try to use the $5 words (or $10 words like perspicacious, a personal favourite). To which I retorted (trying for coy/flirty AND clever), "how do you know we are not saying exactly what we mean?" Which stumped him momentarily AND this turned out to be the moment when he knew he could fall in love with me, too. Damn that waiting train.


The primary function of language is communication with others. All forms of life have their own language including trees. It's important to be able to understand one another. Which is why language has rules of behaviour. Fluid like a river, yes, but there needs to be a well-worn path to follow. Touchstones, and other landmarks that let us know we are on familiar ground.


Hence, the use of verbs, nouns, adjectives, commas, and periods. All forms of grammar are the building blocks to clear communication. Think of them as the DNA of language. Which is why things like spelling matter, especially if your language is that hybrid of all sorts, English:

  • there. their, they're

  • it's, its

  • to, two, too

Do you know the difference between "less" vs "fewer"? How about "amount" vs "number"? Those last two examples are really just pet peeves of mine - unfortunately, you can use these words interchangeably without causing confusion but for the purists (that's me!), it is mighty jarring on the inner ear when they are employed incorrectly.


A Refresher:


Nowadays, it's a freakin' free-for-all in grammar-land. Deliberate misspellings like Skool aren't really helping matters. The language of texting is a whole other kettle of fish. Because it doesn't even pretend to follow established rules and only thumbs need apply, I choose to think of it as innovative even though all those short form thingys drive me crazy. LOL. And don't get me started on spell check. IMHO.


It feels like you're waiting for me to get back to the young man with whom I enjoyed an evening of witty (read: drunken) repartee. The thing is, it could have been something. I even invited him to join me out west. He was game. I'm telling you, we connected hard. We parted company that night with promises of seeing each other the next morning at the train station. Cue the romantic swell of string instruments.


Never happened

Alas, I never heard from him again. I guess the sober light of day got the better of him. No cell phones or texting back then. We were so sure of our future togetherness, we didn't even exchange phone numbers. So, for two language geeks, our potential romance ended with no communication at all.


















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