There can be a notably significant variation in the substance and context of a statement communicated by means of face-to-face conversation, as contrasted with the identical statement, expressed in writing. Each medium has its own signature strengths and drawbacks. The awareness of this phenomenon could prove vital to the accurate transmission of the message and, in consequence, the avoidance of misunderstanding or misperception. It might seem useful to weigh in on the subject.

Many of us, as children, played a game called “telephone.” This game involved the whispering of an original message, for example, “Hi Sandy,” which was confidentially passed on in turn to a number of players, to be recited by the final player, who, invariably announced something else, such as “buy candy.” On the positive side, verbal communication has many communicative advantages such as choice of time and place, selective volume and tone, facial expression and even body language.

However, its spontaneity and the possibility of impulsive expression may result in a less than optimum choice of words and, in consequence, a distortion of intended meaning.  It is also vulnerable to the dynamics of subjective perception and, as well, possible distortion in future repetition (as in the telephone game). Finally, spontaneous oral communication runs the risk of an unintended revelation of withheld sentiment.

The, far less utilized, medium of writing has great utility in accurately conveying the author’s intended thoughts. It affords to the writer ample time for the considered and precise selection of vocabulary thought best suited to the precise expression of his intended thought. It also serves as an enduring record of the writer’s authentic expression and for such reason, is less vulnerable to any valid misunderstanding.

It may be useful, accordingly, to express our understood standard for success in the use of effective and accurate written communication.

One, far too often, hears expressions such as “big” or “simple” words, in a description, or critique of a particular writing. These adjectives may only serve the purpose of being revelatory of readers who do not trouble to write with an adequate level of sensitive awareness. A positive benefit of the written form of communication is the availability of sufficient time to select specific words which, in the writer’s judgment, best convey his intended message. Every word, one observes, has its individually nuanced meaning, context, tone and degree of subtlety. With abject apologies to M. Roget, we believe that a skilled writer knows that there are very rarely, alternative words or “synonyms,” which would suffice for the expression of his exact intent. No two words, we believe, are truly identical in meaning and context. As an illustration, the word “torrid” is not an alternate choice for the word “hot”; one would never describe the temperature of bath water as “torrid,” but might properly decide to apply that adjective to an exotic flamenco dancer.

There is thus no utility in the application of descriptive adjectives such as,” big”, “hard”, “easy” or “simple” to words in a careful writing. Only those specific words, which, to the author, are considered best in the expression of his intended meaning and context (whether they are called “ten dollar” or” ten cent” words) would be selectively employed. When such sensitive and appropriate care is duly exercised in the consideration and selection of vocabulary, any responsibility for misunderstanding should, in fairness, be borne by the reader.


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Retired from the practice of law'; former Editor in Chief of Law Review; Phi Beta Kappa; Poet. Essayist Literature Student and enthusiast.

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