Say What You Mean. Mean What You Say.


“So, what are you trying to say?”

This phase has been uttered far too many times in the history of phase uttering. Why can’t everyone just understand what everyone else means? (Do you understand?) What’s wrong with a little clarity in our lives? And besides, mystery is SO overrated.

But what if all the misunderstanding is due to our reading inadequacies? Christina Haas and Linda Flower make a case for the weight of “rhetorical reading” and, in turn, meaning construction (“Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning,” 1988).  The piece addresses rhetoric from the lens of the reader, the person whose eyes stream across the page picking up language and turning it into meaning. The authors argue that the way in which readers read varies across experience levels as they employ techniques to make that meaning. They also claim that a reader must read for purpose, motivation, intended audience and a foundation of deeper understanding as opposed for “merely an information exchange.”

We’ve been drilled through grade school, almost as if our hands write and our eyes read like puppets on the end of an instructor’s string. What’s really interesting is that our minds are the true pieces of value, according to the authors. It’s what we believe and interpret that’s important, not simply what we see and regurgitate.

Frankly, I’ve never been so meta with my own meaning making before. I would never think twice when constructing my thoughts on a Boxcar Children chapter book, TIME column, E:60 short documentary, etc. Was I thinking original thoughts or thoughts that the author intended me to think? Was it me they were targeting or was I a new sector of audience intruding with interpretation? I don’t have any answers, but I do have a new perspective from which to view.

So, do you get what I’m trying to say?

3 thoughts to “Say What You Mean. Mean What You Say.”

  1. Emily, I do understand what you’re saying and agree. This is a real interesting area that you brought up. I think that in all writing and documentaries while there are some obvious points, much is left up to interpretation. I also believe this a really important aspect of writing. Without it I don’t think writing and reading would hold much value.

  2. I get what you are trying to say I think… I also think that I agree. Maybe all of our interpretations were accounted for and predicted by the author, or maybe the author wants to steer us in a direction and, as Brandon mentioned, leave the rest up to interpretation. I also think that this fluidity within interpretation varies between texts. Boxcar Children may not be as easy to pull sexual symbolism from as a piece of French Literature. I think it is interesting to think of yourself as possibly a brand new audience with a new interpretation and maybe rhetorical reading is strengthened by trying to be original in our interpretation, looking at all the articles and analysis on a popular piece of literature and try to argue something at least a little different. I like that you brought this up, it makes me think about what conclusions I reach and what audience sector I am in.
    🙂 Madelaine

  3. Emily, I absolutely love the line “It’s what we believe and interpret that’s important, not simply what we see and regurgitate.” This is so true about so many aspects of life, not just reading and writing. For example, lets say that I’m having a conversation. I listen to what my friend says, but am I truly LISTENING? In the spirit of your post, I’m probably not! It’s time to stop and think about what I’m hearing and what I’m saying, because only then can clarity truly happen.

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