I Never Said She Stole My Money

“I never said she stole my money.”

It’s a simple statement. You understand every word of it. But do you fully understand what is meant?

I never said she stole my money.”

The words are the same, their individual meanings the same, but with a change of emphasis, the meaning of the sentence has changed. (I didn’t say it, someone else said it.) Try these.

“I never said she stole my money.” (I did not say that. I said . . .)

“I never said she stole my money.” (I never said it directly, but I implied it.)

“I never said she stole my money.” (Someone else stole it.)

“I never said she stole my money.” (She didn’t exactly steal it.)

“I never said she stole my money.” (She stole someone else’s money.)

“I never said she stole my money.” (She stole something else.)

Curious. The subtle differences we understand implicitly when listening to spoken language, never seem to rise to conscious awareness, at least not until we write it out. Then we find our intended meaning, perfectly clear to us, is misunderstood by readers. The title sentence is an example of how writing is critically different from speech. We know what we mean to say, but with writing, we forget the reader can’t hear us. It exposes the difficulties of communicating with email, sms, and other mute forms of language. It shows why and how we try to clarify our intentions with emoticons—why and how irony falls flat on its face—why and how even people who know us well don’t always understand when we’re joking. Huge misunderstandings occur every day because words without the inflections of speech, without the visual clues of facial expression and body-language leave the reader filling in the blanks, often wrongly.

The written word is great; the responsibility of the writer greater. I’ve recently reedited all 193 previous posts. I still found errors, changed punctuation, and revised a word or phrase here and there. I’m certain that if I were to go through them again, I’d still find a few more glitches, and make a few more modifications. A real editor would find plenty to fix, question, dispute.

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