Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean

Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead are two brilliant explorations on communication. But should our own real-life interpersonal realtions involve such dramedy?

A dear friend passed on this story of a woman who thought she was being clear when ordering at Starbucks:

Below is the link to the journalistic  piece (in the sense it is froma  paper, which implies some standards – we’d hope):

Yes, I do get narrowed eyes when I order my small Frappucino (no whip). Inevitably I play their game and say “tall.”  I had no idea coporate-inflicted training was causing earnest people in need of a paycheck to follow procedure to the point where “a multi-grain bagel” is not clear enough.

Having worked in the retail business for far too long, I have learned a few things that impede communication.

1) The barista could have been under supervision and wanted to go by the book. Similarly, the barsita could have been warned about “secret shoppers” who will rate the store on this person’s performance, down to the script undoubtedly from some green binder memorized during training. [Note: I have never worked at Starbucks, but have at a coporate monolith, and such places literally iterate every last little “i” in conversation).

2)  The construction of this store’s “language” has so influenced the barista and Western society at large that anything else sounds like it’s coming from a foreigner.

What do we do?

A) The customer is always right. Handle things gracefully and humanly. And if she says just a bagel – first ask nicely if she’d like anything on top.

B) Order like Sally Albright in When Harry Met Sally.

C) Give in a little to the new language and customs. You’re entering their world with their worlds. Be gracious, too.

What does this have to do with writing?

I believe each literary expression creates its own microcosm. Characters develop their own slang (even the phonies). Writers will take words we know and ascribe new meanings to them, to the point where we can’t understand “our” language (see the opening pages to M.T. Anderson’s Feed). Personally, I think engaging with “new” languages enriches our experience with the world.

You mission: come up with a new word using common ones OR ascribe new meaning to an existing word.

Mine is “huggle” (hug+snuggle).


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