A lot, an awful lot. Think of all the words you have in your vocabulary…. that is a lot of words. Even if I just asked you to think about the words you could use to express agreement, stop for a moment and see how quickly you get to 10. Now if I asked you to add in the noises you could make to express agreement…. See how quickly you can get to 20.
Why does this matter? Because, you have now identified at least 20 ways of expressing agreement, think about these questions:
Which ones do you use?
Which ones feature more or less?
How do they change according to the person you are talking with?
What impact does the topic of conversation have on which word you use?
Does the word choice indicate the strength of your agreement?
That last question is an interesting one. Is there a difference (for you) between yes/yeah/yep/ok/alright? as an example. If there is, you may want to reflect on questions 1-4 as they may help you.
I know that for me, when I use ‘yes’ that is the most affirmative I can be and is often followed up with the phrase ‘I agree’. If I use anything else, it tells me that there is something, maybe minor or major, that I have an issue with and then I’ll work that through. It may be as small as ‘I can see how that will work, personally I would do it differently but yeah I can go with what’ the bit in italics and underline is what comes out of my mouth and the rest is often unconscious or in my head.
That leads me to another question… How conscious are you of the words you choose?
All I have done so far is explore a tiny aspect, expressing agreement. What about all the other aspects of speech? What about sentences or a group of sentences to make a statement? If I get into a multiparty conversation that may mean for a insanely long post.
We choose to use words all day and those words can tell us a lot about what we may have been thinking or feeling and not specifically saying. An alternative thought is that the words we choose may also tell others what we want them to believe we are thinking and/or feeling. I’ll leave you to think on that some more.
To bring it to life a little I want to look at a part of a transcript of an interview. It’s a TV political interview (from the Andrew Marr Show) and I’ve chosen it as a) the transcript is done and readily available b) it’s close to real interaction as it is a live discussion. Passing judgements or drawing conclusions from TV is a challenge (maybe minefield) as there is an exaggerated element of performance and the questions are possibly/probably scripted.
The image below is from the opening of the Andrew Marr show and so is more likely to have been scripted than free narrative. I’m not sure if that makes it more or less interesting, importantly, it may be that it wasn’t his narrative
In lines 1-2 Andrew Marr states that Nigel Farage describes his party as a fox running around the Westminster hen house. We don’t know how accurate that analogy actually is and yet it is an interesting one to use. As well as the semantic meaning of words there is often the connotative meaning too, in this analogy then, I wonder what connotations we are meant to glean…
Fox vs hen
Masculine vs Feminine
Predator vs Prey
Strong vs Weak
Cunning vs Simple
Andrew Marr frames this analogy as belonging to Nigel Farage and goes on to seemingly extend the analogy in lines 2-3, choosing to use the words ‘general mayhem, blood and feathers all over the shop’. What may be of interest to explore is whether these words belong to Andrew Marr or Nigel Farage? If they are Andrew Marr’s (as he is speaking them) then he is possibly providing an interpretation of the original analogy that may be different to the original intent.
What may be helpful then is to see what response or reaction this causes in Nigel Farage and to what extent does he choose to clarify, challenge or affirm the analogy extension. When we look at Nigel Farage’s next turn, it is ‘good morning’ in response to the final part of Andrew Marr’s opening.
My intent here is to draw attention to the words, how they are doing things, beyond their pure semantic meaning which can (and I believe does) create impressions and perceptions with the audience/reader/hearer.
So, next time you are in or watching interaction with others, you may want to pay a little more attention to the words, they are an important part.