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A thousand meanings never meant

© April 2008 Anthony Lawrence

In the current New Yorker, there's a great quote from Royall Tyler's autobiography. Apparently he imagined a reader 200 years in the future (he wrote this in 1825). I quote:

The sprawling letters, yellow text,
The formal phrase, the bald stiff style
And in the margins gravely notes
A thousand meanings never meant.

"A thousand meanings never meant". I see that often with some hit and run comment from someone who thinks I mean something I don't mean at all.. had they read more of my blog they might have had a better understanding of who I am and the unlikeliness of my holding the opinion they think they just read.

You might argue that if I had written more clearly the misunderstanding might also have been avoided, but as Royall implies, context is everything, and we bloggers often assume knowledge we perhaps should not. Royall realized that a future reader would not be aware of the context in which he lived, so his words could easily be misconstrued. In our case, we bloggers don't want to bore our regular readers by pedantic explanation of every nuance of our opinions, so we tend to leave some of that out.. and the new reader sometimes thinks we hold positions that we do not.

What to do about it? I think there is little you can do about those who mangle your opinions; it's going to happen no matter how careful you are. Do read your posts with an eye toward that new reader, of course, but remember that web readers are often hasty, so they will misinterpret sometimes no matter how thorough you are - and remember that pedantic thoroughness may bore your regular readers!

You can and should practice careful commenting yourself. Before you tear into someone at their blog, take a moment to at least read a few more of their posts, check out their "About" page, try to learn a little about what makes them who they are.

And then shred them into miserable little bits for the trashman.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Mon Apr 21 13:14:35 2008: 4088   Sledge

This happens to me in face-to-face conversation. It happens less often than when I was in my twenties, however it is still happening.

It occurs to me that a blog is less about being understood than it is about being heard, but I see from your last article about using Linux as a server and OS X as a workstation, that being understood is sometimes an exercise that is left for the reader.

To be honest, this may be due in part to my belief that responsibility for being understood sometimes lies with my hearer as much as with the speaker. That is to say, sometimes it isn't what you say *OR* how you say it, it is how he/she felt the time his/her dad said something that hurt about which something you just said reminded them. (Yes, I would call that a mine field)

Mon Apr 21 13:20:57 2008: 4089   TonyLawrence

With face to face, you can often straighten out confusion easily (assuming you know that there is confusion!)

With a blog, sometimes the comments cross paths, or because we can't see and hear emotion the replies are also taken wrong.. it's a lot easier to unintentionally get someone hopping mad with written words than it is face to face!


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