While on holiday in the Solomons I sent David a text saying that my English was broken, but that he shouldn’t tell the boss! This tired old jibe worked because I understood my audience. Imagine telling a paranoid, micro-managing, hovering boss that I seemed to have lost the skill for which he employs me … the humour might’ve fallen flat. In any writing task it’s important to understand audience. In the old days of letters on paper in envelopes with stamps (remember?), we wouldn’t have dared written the same news in the same way to our pen friend as to our grandparents.
Like many of you, I have a lot of books on the shelves of my office, not to mention beside my bed. I’m a sucker for a snappy title which, combined with the instant gratification offered by online shopping, has made building a large collection all too easy in recent years. Of course, some of those books are still in the ‘queue’ to be read. Others have been partially read but they (or I) ran out of puff before finishing them. And then there are the few – the very few – that have been read from end to end and marked throughout with comments and/or sticky labels.
On a recent trip to Vietnam I found myself sitting in a hotel lobby for a few minutes. With nothing else to do, I eavesdropped on the communication taking place between staff and guests at reception. (Beware the bored writer.) As I listened, small misunderstandings seemed to creep into nearly every conversation I heard across the reception desk. Check out times, payment terms, tour arrangements, laundry queries … you name it. The most straightforward query would bounce out of control like a fumbled catch in the outfield.
Yep. Nup. Nothin’. No one. Sort of. Dunno. Nowhere. Good. That’s about the extent of it. Your average teenager’s vocabulary as captured cleverly by songwriter Peter Denahy in his song Sort of Dunno Nothin’. Parents all over the world bemoan their offsprings’ metamorphosis from bubbly, verbose toddler to mumbly inarticulate teen. Yet it is a mistake to accuse the teenager of being unintelligible simply because he doesn’t say much. Listen to a politician, call customer service or, particularly, read the web and you will quickly discover that saying a lot does not necessarily make for comprehensibility either.