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Say It Like You Mean It

November 3, 2022

My second language is American Sign Language, ASL. I’m pretty good at it. I used to be very good at it. I learned ASL during a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. During the two years I was a missionary, I had several companions. One of them, Jay Randles, was a child of deaf parents, CODA.

Jay was very very good at sign language. I was not. He wanted to teach and I wanted to learn. One of the first things Jay thought me was how to not use signs. In fact, most of communicating via ASL is about expression and body language. Facial expressions are how you convey emotion; curiosity, anger, fear, love. A sign, such as “smart,” can be signed to imply you think the person you are talking to really is smart. Or, they only think they are smart. Or you wonder if they are smart. The point is that the sign without the context doesn’t convey information.

That’s the issue as a writer. We write words, scenes, and create worlds. One of the most important advice for writers (right after: make sure you are writing) is “Show don’t tell.” I’m a writer who doesn’t like to use dialogue tags. A tag is when you add something to the dialogue.

Bob said, “What an amazing story.”

The word “said” is a tag. And using “said” is considered bad form. Anyway, I prefer to explain the scene through dialogue.

“How was the story, Bob?”

“It was amazing.”

I recently ran into a couple of phrases that literally could mean the opposite of themselves depending on tags.

I will fight with you.

What does that mean? AT first I thought it meant that someone was going to fight you. And it certainly could be the start of a fight. But, then I realized there was a different possible interpretation. It could be that someone will be your ally in your fight. They will help you fight someone else. One interpretation makes the other person you enemy and a completely different interpretation makes that person your ally.

Holy crap. I’m done.

Again, what does it mean? A friend posted it. I assumed he meant that he was fed up with his situation and he was abandoning it. But, I also remembered he was a writer. And perhaps he meant that he had finally finished his novel. Same exact words, two completely different meanings.

It’s all about finding the context.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. Order Miscellany III A Collection of Holiday Short Stories, an anthology including his latest short story, “You Can Call Me Dan” here

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