One of the really cool aspects of writing is the fact that you, as a writer, manipulate language. Well yes, obviously, Sherlock. What’s so fascinating about the basic definition of writing? I’m glad you asked. The cool part comes in when you take a closer look at what language really is and what it does. When you think about it, languages are made up of thousands of building blocks, aka words. And what are words? They’re signs: funny looking characters that stand in to represent the ideas, feelings, and complex processes going on inside the language user’s head.
And this is cool why…? Ever said something to a friend, sent an email to your group project member, wrote a sticky note for your roommate, and had the message you intended get completely misunderstood? Yes…there were passive aggressive post-it fights for weeks. I thought so. It could either mean you’re a bad communicator, OR it could mean that your friend, group member, roommate, etc. took a different meaning than you intended from the words you chose to convey the idea you had in your head. The cool (and awful) part of language is that it’s fatally flawed: the signs are not perfect, and the meaning that you ascribe to a sign can have a different meaning or connotation to someone else. Essentially, we’re using words as representations for what we mean, and representations aren’t always accurate. As if that weren’t enough, sometimes signs don’t even exist for what we’re trying to express so we make due with less precise ones, thereby widening the gap for misinterpretation. The flaw is that there is no foolproof way to convey the original idea in your head because 1. no sign can perfectly encapsulate what you mean, and 2. there is no way to get that meaning perfectly into someone else’s head because you have to work with a fundamentally flawed representation of your idea to try to convey it.
That all sounds awful. Why on earth are you claiming that this is in any way good? Ah, maybe not good, but it does certainly provide the means for having some fun. Ever notice how some of the best writers don’t try to fight the multiple connotations you can take from an utterance, but instead exploit it? Think about good old Bill Shakespeare: he intentionally played with language so that readers could take it in a few different ways—he had fun with it. So the next time you’re stressing over what word will perfectly encapsulate the meaning you’re trying to express, don’t! By virtue of the nature of language, there will always be some room for misinterpretation, so instead have some fun with it. Take a leaf out of Shakespeare’s book and screw with your readers a little, cause lets face it, that’s more fun than being upset later at how readers still managed to twist your intent out of how you meant it in the first place.