How To Use Words Meaning of Words

There's Soup and then there's Soup!

Korzybski’s book “Science and Sanity” was published in 1933 and is still in print. His theme is ‘the misuse of words can make us sick.’ He is very knowledgeable in many different fields. If you only want one book on words and their use this is the one that will give you most satisfaction. I’ve read it several times. What we must remember is that “The word is not the thing itself”.

When my grandsons were 8 and 9 years old, I went to have lunch with them and my daughter. I asked her to make soup. I took with me four pieces of paper with ‘soup’ written on them.

I took four plates and spoons out and put them on the table. I placed the pieces of paper in each one. “Now boys you can eat your soup”.

They looked at me, then at the plates and then at their mother. “Eat your soup up” I said. They were dumbstruck. Finally they said “What soup?” “It is on your plates” I said. There was a short silence and my grandsons could say nothing. I took up my paper and put it in my mouth. “Mmm, it doesn’t taste a bit like soup. But the paper tells us it is soup, doesn’t it?” Finally the penny dropped and the boys laughed. They got the message, the name of the soup is not the same as the soup itself. I removed the paper and put the real soup into the four bowls. The boys roared with laughter. This is the kind of experiment that teaches children and makes them laugh at the same time: always a good combination.

Another day I was working with a client who had recovered from a severe illness after an operation for cancer. She had been looking forward to Christmas. “How did it go?” I said. She replied “I was so disappointed!” I tried to understand. She struggled to say why. “I wanted this Christmas to be this way and that way but it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted it to be the ultimate Christmas!” I said “The ultimate Christmas?” “Yes” she said. My mind clicked . “Ah I see. The ultimate Christmas could mean the best one you ever had, or it might have been your last one.” This is another example of enantiodromia, where one word can have two contrary meanings.” YES!” she said loudly. “Why did that upset you? I said. “Well. I wanted everyone there to realise that this might have been my last Christmas, but they all carried on the same as usual.”

Two weeks later she came to see me again. She said she thought about it and said yes, she had enjoyed Christmas very much. She realised that she couldn’t expect her close friends and family to be as excited as she was after her recovery. No-one else could understand exactly the depth of her experience. Moreover it is quite understandable that they might have thought it would be tactless to bring up the feelings about her illness again.

Conversation Analysis How To Use Words

Is Talking Good For You?

We take talking for granted because, most of the time, it seems to flow easily from our lips without our having to think about it. In fact there is a lot going on in conversation of which we are not aware. Thr first person to realise that the grammar of conversation is worth exploring was a genius called Harvey Sacks, the discovery of Conversation analysis.

Jean Pain, a linguist and psychotherapist in private practice, has just published a book “Not Just Talking” inspired by Sacks’ work. She wanted to know what goes on in the therapeutic dialogue. This book is not only for therapists. She wants to demonstrate to all those people who think psychotherapy is “Just Talking” that the power of the therapeutic dialogue, when it is used to full effect, has been seriously underrated. Moreover, all who want to improve their own ways of talking with others, will find this book very useful.

Well versed in the study of the best writers in English Literature and a keen observer of people and their actions, Jean realised that what she was really doing with her clients was teaching them to think for themselves by setting a good example. She went back to two universities, Manchester Metropolitan for her M.A. and Brunel for her PhD. Both taught Conversation Analysis.

Jean’s research is based on transcriptions from live therapy talks with her clients. The first step is gaining the trust of clients, an art in itself. Then clients begin to talk. When we have problems we tend to tell the same story in the same way to others. The words we use do not vary much. Little phrases like “I don’t know” can be cover-ups for “I don’t want to tell you” or “I’m scared, help me!” Jean listened carefully and whenever clients used ambivalent words and phrases, she encouraged them to express themselves in a more precise way. By changing the way they talked clients began to look at their problems from a clearer angle.

It happened that when clients were willing and able to benefit from Jean’s approach they began to work things out for themselves in a more helpful way. She realised that what clients say is less important then why and how they say it. Strong emotions, common to all of us when we are confused and unhappy, get in the way of clear thinking. Once we gain control over our powerful feelings and stop going round in circles trying to find answers, only then can we begin to think straight.

Jean’s method can be helpful for all who have difficulties getting on with themselves and other people. Much blaming occurs when people refuse to accept that most of their troubles arise from their attitudes to life.

This book is the foundation of Jean’s research discoveries. She continues to research a variety of situations such as “Talking with Children” and “Talking in close relationships”.They are all relevant for everyone who gets into difficulties in conversations and does not know why.

How To Use Words

The Magic Three

American Indians invaded by white explorers said “White men talk with forked tongue” in order to deform the truth with the motive of forcing them to give up their freedom . We could say the same about some politicians. They openly call it ‘spin’ in the mistaken belief that most of us are fools and easily deceived. A comon device of oratory is to put together three consecutive words, either the same or closely related. Here are three good examples:

Education! Education!,Education!
The word education comes from the Latin word educare which means leading out what is whithin. It does not mean forcing ideas on to children. The task of teachers is to give enough information to enable children to work things out for themselves. Does this happen? Not very often. Good teachers are few and far between. It has always been so.Much of what children are taught is not what they either want or need. A good teacher realises that every child learns in their own time and in their own way. There is a dangerous movement creeping in trying to regulate education, medicine, psychotherapy and everything else that curtails our freedom and is a threat to new ideas.

Where does such a thing come from? The government of course who set up organisations such as quangos for this purpose. More of this later.

The politician Gordon Brown is one of those who constantly uses the thrice repeated word education in his broadcasts. He doesn’t take anyone in. People get bored and stop listening.

Location!Location! Location! is a different kettle of fish. Everyone knows what it means and knows it is true. If you take a back street shop to set up a business we know it will probably fail. The wrong people will walk past. I set up two new businesses in the heart of Cambridge selling secondhand books, posters and prints. This was 35 years ago before rents began to rise dramatically and there were plenty of people to buy the right kind of books and prints in such a place as Cambridge.

Many people I knew were astonished that I should take such a risk. Few people take chances when they want to start something new. There is no guarantee that they will be successful. This is why so few people make fortunes. There is always the threat of bankruptsy because we cannot know what will happen in the future. Most of those who take risks in business get close to losing everything at least once. It happened to me.

Friends, Romans and Countrymen lend me your ears: one of the best known quotes from Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar”. Brutus and his mates had just killed Julius Caesar because they thought he was a corrupt leader. Mark Anthony thought he was wrong. Brutus was a fair-minded man who believed he had done the right thing. Everything went well for Brutus until he made the fatal mistake of letting Mark Anthony be the last to speak to the mob. These first three words flattered the people. He gave the impression that they were his equals. Moreover he went on to give a melodramatic discription of Caesar’s death. In addition he read out Caesar’s will which contained gifts for the prople. Mark Anthony with his clever oratory turned the feeling of the people against Brutus and for himself without saying a single bad thing about Brutus. Such is the power of speech. All dictators have influenced the masses of the people by using the right kind of oratory. When crowds are in a very excitable state they cannot think straight and powerful emotions take over.

How To Use Words

The power of oratory

Babies learn to walk and talk remarkably quickly. They are born with this potential. However, they also need to hear people talking around them. They are curious about everything. Eric Fromm wrote one of the best books about how human beings work. He noticed that children up to the age of six are so active and productive that they create their own stimuli provided that those who look after them pay attention to all the things they enjoy doing and let them get on with it, providing they are not interfering with other people’s fun.

Fromm noticed that once they go to school where teachers tell them what to do, their spontaneity diminishes: they become more docile and passive. Of course this is inevitable. Children learn to adapt to the world outside home and to be taught to read and write. When we think about it we understand what a huge change children have to face. It can be a very traumatic experience. The Swiss psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, coined the phrase ‘poisonous pedagogy’. She meant that throughout the ages children have suffered greatly because they have had to be dependent on grown-ups for their early years. It has always been so easy for them to be exploited to suit the needs of their family relations and other adults who have some power over them.

Freude recognised that psychological damage suffered by children has a very profound effect throughout their lives. Sometimes the damage can be repaired and sometimes not. There are good reasons for this and the major one is that children want to love their parents and anyone who makes them happy. Such people are gods to children. Hence they tend to believe everything they are told. This is one of the major mistakes that make our lives so difficult. This is the source of an eternal search by many different people of all kinds to discover the meaning of life: what is true and what is not true. We all have to work that out for ourselves.

Since the rest of the animal kingdom who cannot speak with words they rely entirely on their instincts and emotions. All parents, apart from our species, have only to feed their offsprings and show them how to look for food as soon as they can walk or fly. Once they are independent they have no further need of their parents. Life is simple for them unless great changes occur in their environments, most due to the intervention of mankind.
‘Cognito ergo sum’ said the philosopher Descartes in the 17th century: I think therefore I am. As soon as we learn to speak we become aware of many things that other animals cannot know: such factors as working out what we do not understand through thinking in words. Very few of us remember anything about their early life, except through vague pictures and feelings. There comes a moment when we suddenly realise ‘This is me! I am different from everyone else. I am small now, but every year I have a birthday and grow bigger!’ I become aware of time and know I have been born and will one day die!’

The power of words is very great. I shall go on to discuss how words are used to influence other people.