Monday, August 16, 2010

Same Words, Different Language


Years ago, we won't discuss how many, I mentioned to a college professor that air and water move in the same way. She looked aghast and said, "They do not!"

Who was right?

Turns out, we both were. Using the same words, we were talking about two very different things. I was talking macrocosm. Water and air as mirrored oceans. The motion of the mediums reflect one another, in that both air and water move in currents and tides, swirling and twisting. My professor was thinking microcosm. She'd focused on how objects affected by air move as opposed to how objects affected by water move.

I had a deja vu miscommunication yesterday during a sail back from Liberty Bay. I had the helm. The beloved husband went forward to raise the sails. "You're stuck!" I hollared. "Untangle the lines beneath the boom, then you'll be able to finish raising the main." He looked down, confusion in his face. "I don't understand how lines beneath the boom mean I can't raise the sail!" he said. I blinked. Understanding had no bearing on the fact that the reefing lines had tangled and bound the sail, preventing him from lifting the sail all the way. We got it figured out with no blood shed. It wasn't until we'd gotten back to dock and put everything away that it occurred to me we'd had a language malfunction similar to the one I'd had in college. 

I'd said 'lines under the boom' and meant the reefing lines that run through the boom. He'd looked under the boom and saw the coiled halyards at his feet. No wonder he hadn't understood how those lines were impeding the sail (because they had nothing to do with that sail and *weren't* involved at all). I hadn't been specific enough. Had I said, "the reefing lines are tangled," he'd have known where to look and would have instantly understood the problem. Mental note: saying the word 'lines' on a boat that has several such critters is not sufficiently descriptive.


That's when I had a horrifying epiphany. I'm committing the sin in my day to day life that I've learned I'd better not commit in my writing life: failing to put what's in my head on the paper. Somewhere along the way, I learned in writing not to say 'the trees' when I want you to envision 'the aspens' or 'the maples' or 'the stand of fir, hemlock and cedar'. I suppose it's long past time to learn to be equally specific when I speak. Why does that seem so much harder?

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