Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What we have here, is a failure to communicate

A friend told me the other day that she was going to do an impersonation of me. I asked what this would entail. As expected: monotone, straight face, dry jokes. Then she added “speaking in the vernacular.”

I don’t like to be put in boxes. Literally or figuratively. Any descriptor you might apply to me, I would add a caveat or clarification. I don’t really want to be unabashedly anything. Except intelligent. I want people to know that I’m smart. I’m not particularly proud of that desire, but clearly I am proud of that particular attribute.

Why then, when I so arrogantly want people to know that I’m intelligent, do I sometimes talk like a Real World contestant? I know that’s a dated reference, I just hope that by ignoring reality television it will go away. But the question remains, why speak like I do?

When my SAT score came back, I shocked and chagrined to discover my verbal far exceeded my math score. This is a sad realization for a budding scientist. Not that the SAT is all that methodical in terms of intelligence testing, but really it has turned out to be accurate. Words are more intuitive to me than numbers. A good enough arrangement for a psychiatrist I suppose. The point being, my vocabulary is actually pretty good. I rarely hear words that I don’t know; in fact I tend to cry BS when someone uses a word I haven’t heard. I’m sure this is very endearing. So I think I’m quite capable of making my language more florid, if I had the inclination, and also of choosing my words more expeditiously to make them more precise.

But I don’t.

The goal is communication. I want to convey my meaning as clearly as possible. Esoteric polysyllabic tongue-twisters are fine and dandy in moderation. But generally, they’re not helping to get the point across. It might sound nice, but it doesn’t help. It might be EXACTLY the right word for the job, but if the audience isn’t familiar with it, it doesn’t help. And I’m not implying that I have to condescend and patronize people all day long. This isn’t really about intelligence, it’s about ease. And the best communication is easy. The focus should be on the content of the message, not the structure of the words. I want the attention to be on what I’m saying, not how I’m saying it.

So, I speak in the vernacular. There are other reasons. I find other people’s pontificating annoying so I try to avoid it myself. I sometimes like the challenge and freedom of knowing the rules so I can break them. Refined language often ruins jokes. But generally, it’s about being a good communicator. A great one even.

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