If you are at all a Trekkie, like I am, you will be familiar with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard and his crew came in contact with aliens whose language they didn’t understand and couldn’t processes through their translators. But ever diplomatic Picard made valiant efforts to try to communicate with them. They were able to determine the aliens were simply saying the names of people and places the humans wouldn’t know. Eventually they learned these aliens communicated by saying just the key figures of an event or story from their past. It would be like us communicating by saying, “The princess and the pea at Snow White’s cottage,” to say we experienced a lumpy mattress, and a resulting poor night’s sleep, while spending the night at a friend’s house.
Humans can and do develop a sort of shorthand speech. We are familiar enough with the stories and fables of our past that I don’t have to explain what I mean by the Princess and the pea or Snow White. Using the names and places is enough for you to know the story.
I’m sitting here thinking about this type of shorthand and wondering if I’ve ever even used it in my stories.
As human beings we all have it. A shared memory with someone and all either of you have to do is say a word or a phrase and you are either howling in laughter or somber or whatever the mood required.
For that matter do we ever transplant a person into a new place, a new culture, a new society then have some confusion ensue simply because words and phrases don’t translate well.
I’m reminded of one time, while I was in Tennessee, and I mentioned to a gentleman that the young lady I was with and I need to go to the store.
He offered to “carry” us there.
I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone would carry us that far or how he expected to carry two women. Besides we had a car.
It took several minutes to figure it out but the man meant he could “drive” us to the store.
I could also come up with examples of the differences between British English and American English. Anyone remember the Candid Camera episode (old version) were a young British woman was asking everyone she could for help finding a pharmacy, though she used a different word for it, which I don’t remember, so she could get a “plaster”. Of course, none of the American’s knew she was asking for a Band-Aid.
I’m also reminded of a movie about an airplane disaster and two young black men were unable to communicate with the stewardess or any of the other passengers and they needed help for some reason, though I could not decipher what it was.
Then, of all people, the character played by Barbara Billingsly (Leave It to Beaver’s Mom) was able to understand them, carry on a conversation and tell the stewardess they needed some aspirin.
Like Picard and the aliens he couldn’t understand, have we ever put a character into a confusing situation simply because they didn’t understand what those around them were talking about? Or the above mentioned airplane disaster where two men couldn’t communicate with those around them because their language didn’t make sense to anyone else?
Language is words. It plays a major role in our writing. Think about how we use our words differently and how that can affect understanding and clear communication while you’re writing your stories.
Smile. Make the day a brighter day.