When Forrest Gump joined the U. S. Army he boarded a bus to take him to basic training. On this bus ride, he first meets Bubba who proceeds to do most of the talking while Forrest listens cautiously. A memorable dialogue occurs when Bubba asks Forrest, “Have you ever been on a real shrimp boat?” And what is Forrest’s reply? “No, but I been on a real big boat”. Bubba clarifies by stating, “I’m talking about a shrimp catchin? boat.”
And so goes the English language and the subtle meaning of words. It’s a great reminder that confusion can occur in our everyday communication. American Heritage dictionary lists the first meaning of shrimp as any of several small, long-tailed, chiefly crustaceans, certain species of which are used as food. The second meaning listed is informal or slang: a diminutive or insignificant person. Obviously Forrest thought of a small or diminutive boat when he answered Bubba’s question … though Bubba was clearly referring to a crustacean-catching and food-harvesting vessel.
That simple, humorous exchange reminds us of the complexity of the English language, the dual and multiple meaning of words, and the challenge of communicating in everyday life. Are you working hard to be understood in your communication? Do you find yourself frequently misunderstood? and/or frequently misunderstanding? If yes, you are probably not alone.
Let’s review a few basics:
Synonyms are words that have the same or nearly the same meaning as another word. e.g. puny, shrimp, small, diminutive, runt, little.
Antonyms are words opposite in meaning to each other. Big is the opposite of small (or shrimp).
Context refers to the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect. Since Forrest had just met Bubba and had no context for understanding his question about the shrimp boat, it’s understandable how the simple-minded Forrest could have misunderstood the type of boat with the size of the boat.
So how can you increase your understanding of others when listening and being crystal clear in your own communication?
- Context is King! Remember that others come from one perspective and it’s often different than your own. Try to understand the basis or background from which other people are speaking. Likewise, help others see where you are coming from.
- Simplify. Being gump-like in your communication is best: straightforward, direct, avoid innuendo. Use words by which your intended meaning is most easily understood. Words have meaning … and what you speak has consequences.
- Think. Think before you speak. Think and attempt to understand others before you react.
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Next Blog Date: June 3, 2010