We all know the phrase “It’s not what you said, it’s how you said it.” We have all known the sting of an insult born only in the tone of voice. Yet so few people understand what it is about the way that they say things that gets them in trouble. The same can be said about writing. Sometimes it’s not what you are writing about but how you are writing it that makes the difference between the reader getting it or not.
We all do it. Most of us without thinking about it. We change the way that we speak based on who we are talking to. There are the obvious times – when talking to babies. Then there are the less obvious situations. You probably don’t realize that you use different vocabulary when talking to your boss than to your co-workers. And I know you don’t notice the subtle changes in grammar either. But they’re there.
Try this: Go someplace public where you can eavesdrop on someone else’s conversation and listen carefully. I’m not interested in what other people are saying here, but how they are saying it. Listen to how they form their phrases, when they switch speakers, how often the over-talk each other, etc. Now go one step further and write it down – exactly as they said it – and see what you’ve got.
A mess –
I’ve had several encounters recently with people complaining about the way that English is changing. When I stop laughing, I feel a bit of frustration. One of the things that is a constant in language is that it changes. Exactly the same way that the rest of life changes.
There are the obvious changes that happen, like when a new technology shows up and we suddenly need new words to talk about it.