It is grammar week. I am not sure who decided this but there you are. We should be thinking about grammar and how we us it this week. Did I just mean we should be thinking about how we use it this week only, or did you get that I meant this week we should be thinking about it? Context and how we use or misuse it I the subject of this post. Free Dictionary online defines context as 1. The part of a text or statement that surrounds a particular word or passage and determines its meaning. I should have been careful where I put the word week.
When we do not clearly state our intent or omit important parts of a statement others may misinterpret our meaning. I have found this can lead to embarrassing mistakes or it can make a reader mad at us and misunderstand the point we are trying to make. This month I have had both situations happen because I was not clear. I knew what I was talking about, but readers of my words did not.
My friend Faith of Faith’s Book Blog and I are reading Living Dead in Dallas as a co-read. We also belong to the yahoo group Mostly Books (come join us, we are fun) and have used the group’s board to talk about the book. Last night, after finishing the book I went to the board to leave Faith a message. I was in a hurry and wanted to write a quick subject line. One that would let the other members know this was a post to Faith about the book. I wrote: Faith Dead in Dallas, and thought nothing of it. Oh what I hit I got! Naturally the other’s gave me a bad time and were all rather good natured about it. Faith did let the members know she is alive and well in New Jersey but still I was mortified! What a horrid subject post! What if one of our members saw this post and thought Faith had died. We had a member pass a few months ago and I remember how my stomach lurched when I saw the subject line “we lost a member”. Though members come and go, I knew the subject line was not informing the group about a member who unsubed. See, this is my job as the moderator, so it was a double mistake that I would write Faith Dead in Dallas. I should have taken the time to write Faith: I finished Dead in Dallas. Even though I knew what I was talking about, the context of my sentence was unclear and subject to misinterpretation. Again I apologize to Faith and have learned an important lesson on making sure I write with clear meaning and intent.
Earlier this month I was in a hot and heavy class debate over Jesus and his message. I go to a state college that sits right in the heart of the Southern Bible belt. Many times I have to educate Christians on the history of the church or history of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus. To put it in context, NPR has reported that 30% of American Christians think Judaism came after Christianity; I believe these people live in the school district of the University of North Carolina, where I attend class. A classmate and I were arguing about Jesus’ intent. I wrote “ Jesus was a Rabbi who was taking the Jews to task for being too Roman”. My meaning was clear but apparently my words were taken out of context by another student who happened to be Jewish. Sometimes we write a clear message but because we do not expand on our intent others do not understand our message. My Jewish classmate thought I was arguing that Jesus was trying to make Christians out of the Jews and took me to task for this. She wrote a very long rant chewing me out for my views. I wrote her back and asked her to read my post as if I was a Jew, making a point about Jesus being a Jew not a Christian. She read my post again and apologized for her rant. She misunderstood where I was coming from. Though my statement was clear my point was not. I should have said “Jesus was a Rabbi who was not trying to change the religion; rather he was trying to save it”. This would have made my statement stronger and not subject to misinterpretation.
So you see dear Reader, even though we always know what we mean, care must be taken when writing to others. We do not want our words taken out of context; we must strive to write with clear meaning and intent. Happy Grammar week, may you always be understood.