Home » Culture » Why we can’t say what we mean

Why we can’t say what we mean

matisse5a-2-webA picture is worth a thousand words.  Except when it isn’t.

You may have heard of Le Bateau, the work by French avant-garde painter Henri Matisse that hung upside down in New York’s Museum of Modern Art for 47 days back in 1961.  Looking at the painting, it’s hard to see why it mattered.

But that’s not the case when we communicate.  According to a recent study by the University of Minnesota, the use of emoji — those little yellow emoticons — are almost as likely to cause confusion as they are to evoke the emotions for which they are named.

Interviewing 334 subjects, researchers discovered that people argued over whether emoji communicate positive, negative, or neutral emotions about 25% of the time.  That’s a lot of befuddlement for a medium that’s supposed to make communication easier.

Hannah Miller, lead author of  the study, told Fortune Magazine that people could solve much of this confusion by “putting emojis in context, adding words into the mix.”

Now there’s a novel idea:  use actual words to say what you want to say.

screen-shot-2016-04-13-at-3-24-06-pmThe problem is, even that doesn’t always help, since the putrefaction of language that has resulted from advertising and political correctness, together with the corrosive influence of texting, has degraded not only our ability to articulate our thoughts clearly but also our capacity for clear thinking altogether.

Whether the deterioration of thought has influenced the deterioration of language or vice versa is the topic of these musings from 2009.


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