Let’s Go the Long Way Around

Yesterday my 5-year-old son explained his experience with the piece of gum I’d given him: “I smashed it with my teeth so many times…” He went on to explain that suddenly all of the flavor disappeared. I’m sorry I can’t recall the exact wording of the rest of the sentence. I was too busy being smitten by his long-way-around description of chewing.

That made me think about our use of words, especially the ones with moderate-to-lengthy definitions. “Chew” does not require a long definition to explain. It’s fairly straightforward. But when you don’t use the word and take the long way around an idea, it has the potential of illuminating the way toward other ideas.

The kind of words that I’m talking about are shortcuts. “Jealous” has to be explained. “Vivacious” as well. Furthermore, many words are loaded with nuances. Instead of vivacious, we could say lively, but those two words each have their own subtle differences, their own character, their own “feel”.

When we describe someone’s personality, when we describe our own personality, we use loaded words. When we use these terms in conversation with others, we use these words in order to spend less time to get the idea in the sentence out, keeping the pace of the conversation up, but we make a bargain in the process – these adjectives, adverbs and idioms don’t always provide any shortcut to understanding or, in the case of your own personality, being understood.

What someone else thinks of when they hear you say “anxious” may not be exactly what you mean of when you use the word. So often we have to further describe: Anxious how? Then you end up performing some kind of corrective measure with an explanation of what you mean by “anxious”. Your “shortcut” is no shortcut after all.

We have art for self-expression. Paintings, dances, novels, sculptures, plays, films, poems, etc. Each work of art comes from someone trying to express something. They are taking the long way around. Although some could argue that working with words is the long way around. It could depend on what you’re trying to express.

Back to personalities, telling someone what you see in your own personality may be best served by taking the time to avoid terms that might trigger a mental image or response that you don’t intend. It will require more care before speaking, and a bit more time to finish a thought, but being as close to perfectly understood from the start is far better than having to repair what you said in haste.

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