“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm” – Groucho Marx?
When speaking to a computer, all you have to do is use the correct syntax and the computer understands.
Huh? For you kids out there, that means if you press the red button, Mario jumps, or the spaceship fires. The computer knows what you mean. And the computer knows that the red button always means the same thing no matter who presses it.
But people don’t know that (especially us grown ups). We forget that. We judge the message by the messenger (I think that’s the right cliché).
If you don’t believe me, look at all those quotes at the bottom of people’s emails. Who do they quote most often? Groucho Marx? Winston Churchill? Vasco de Sousa? (I wish).
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm” – Groucho Marx.
Actually, it was Winston Churchill.
Words change their meaning depending on who says them. As a man with an unusual, Latin sounding name, I have a certain stereotype to live up to.
I can enhance that stereotype by the way I dress, or the topics I chose to discuss. There are some people who will chose to think of me as a stereotype regardless of what I say or do. I could go by a pen name to please them. Fortunately, I can still do things to enhance the reputation I have with open minded people.
Whether you are an author or not, what you say will be taken in the context of what people already think about you.
Is what you are saying a joke, a rant, a sage piece of advice? It’s not just what you say, or even how you say it. It’s what who’s hearing it thinks of you that determines the meaning.
That’s why we quote others. Churchill has more authority than most of us when it comes to winning and losing. Groucho Marx has a reputation for being jovial. When we quote men like them, we can borrow their reputations to support our shared ideas and observations.
We can’t always rely on their reputations. Not everyone knows that Groucho Marx was a comedian. And some young people may have been taught differently than we have about Churchill (I hear there are parts of Wales where Winston is very unpopular).
Both Groucho and Winston have their reputations because of what they are known for doing. As an author, what I let people know about what I do determines my reputation.
Fictional dialogue is the same. Dialogue gets its meaning from a character. If Tartuff, Hamlet and C3P0 all say the same line, we could infer three separate meanings.
Every time you say or do something, you build your own identity. Are you a know-it-all, a jack of all trades, a whimsical flirt, a humorless scrooge, a caring do-g0oder, a clumsy goofball or something else?
Unfortunately, it’s not what you really are, it’s what other people see and hear that determines your reputation. Fortunately, there are things you can do to help shape that reputation.