Wednesday, 7 October 2009

What You Heard, Is Not What I Meant?

I'm sure there will be a lot of you who have come across similar gems to this phrase; I remember one that went something like this:-

I know you think you know
what you thought I said.
What I'm not sure of,
is that what you thought you heard
is not exactly what I meant.

Or words to that effect.

The reason I had to blog about this today, was really down to Sissy, who, from her blog title one might assume, lives permanently up the creek - a daunting prospect! But wait - perhaps beside a creek would be more accurate? Anyhow, Up or Beside, she had occasion to ask my permission to print a little something of mine, on the subject of communication. Sissy further underlined the vagaries of the written, let alone spoken word, by referring to my blog title as Notable Notes. A somewhat kinder interpretation of the Nipple Notes that Gumbo Writer alias the delectable Angie, chose to bless me with instead of the rather more refined napple notes I chose myself.
Our human brains have a disconcerting habit of leading us astray when interpreting words.

Sometimes, as in the case of a comedian's deliberate Double Entendre jokes, this can, indeed cause a smile. On other occasions, it simply means we are left a little mystified as to what went wrong. There was a beautiful example of this from MSJW (I'm pretty sure by now, you can fill in the proper words), in her delightful poem entitled:-


I've been an' hung my stockin' up,
an' Grandma's too,
and writ and tole old Santa Claus
jus' what to do.

I asked my Grandma what she'd have;
she shook her head,
put on her specs, and 'Fiddlesticks!'
was all she said.

I wonder what she wants them for?
She didn't say...
She hasn't got a fiddle,
an' she couldn't play.

Do words often leave you feeling you've missed something, but can't tell quite what? And how many times do you need to rush to a dictionary, to make sure you've got the right word anyway?
Maybe you sail through life with nary a ponder on what are, when all is said and done, pretty imponderable questions. Can't wait to hear your thoughts...

P.S. Sissy and Angie - hope you don't mind my taking your names in vain with my gentle teasing!


  1. as with anything written, the words are open to personal interpretation. and invariable they may differ from that which the writer intended. which leaves (a) look up the meaning and (b) ask the writer...

  2. I've actually heard this one, "Listen to what I'm saying, not what I say"...and multiple times. It gets even worse when some of us tend to think on the literal side...

  3. Speaking of fiddlesticks, Scarlett O'Hara (who could have been a neighbor of mine if she weren't fictional) always said, "Fiddle dee dee" and I don't know what that means, either.

  4. Really amusing, but a stroke of truth, too. How often do I miss the intent and meaning when I read? How often do others miss the full meaning and intent of what I say or write?

  5. Hello Jinksy,

    As a dry-humoured Yorkshireman I have oft been told my those near and dear that 'others' might not realise I'm joking. Just think what they're missing?!

  6. Written words can be taken wrong...the reason we leave smiley faces and hearts, right...It's all in the voice the phrase...
    "Is that right" can indicate either...
    *anger *surprise *sarcasm or *learning!

  7. Fiddlesticks is a good old fashioned word for *rubbish* as when you think that some one has said something silly.
    Fiddle de dee was also in Jeremy Fisher by Beatrix Potter. (A sort of idle humming!)

    Nuts in May

  8. My mother used to tell me that "people hear what they want to hear and say what they want to say." I am inclined to agree with it.

  9. Oh always! But then again, I have a good reason for having and open next to my (or someone else's) blog. Although my vocabulary is growing all the time, I often have the feeling something got lost in translation.

    And hubs always hears something different than what I'm actually saying. Very fatiguing ;-)

  10. Giving right meanings and understanding them correctly in cyberspace can be a challenge.

  11. I find it all too easy to hit the wrong key on the type pad Jinksy. The other day I wrote "Waste Nit want not." It was a couple of hours before I noticed the mistake and corrected it - so that some blogs still had the old spelling. I wonder how many people noticed - nobody said a word, but then they were probably being polite.

  12. I absolutely love words, play with them for hours. Dictionaries are always part of any kitchen I've ever lived in. Maybe that's why I love crossword puzzles! Now there are words which ALWAYS mean something entirely different from what you think at first glance.

  13. happens a lot to me, specially with foreign languages. I think that misheard phrases can be a great source of inspiration for writing,...

  14. I used to spend hours, or even days, sometimes, in writing, reading, re-writing, re-phrasing and restating in excruciatingly precise language the personnel policies of the company for which I worked. In dealing with sneaky, loop-hole seeking employees, those particular writings needed to be subject to only one interpretation -- that of the company's management. For all intents and purposes, that recurring exercise ruined my ability to write creatively.

    Even in retirement, I keep a dictionary on my desk, and other reference books on a shelf within reach.

  15. Oh the importance of many hearts have been broken, sensitive feelings hurt even wars started over the misunderstood word. This is a great post jinsky as each of us at one time or another have misunderstood what another has said.....Most times I feel people hear what they want too hear and instead of having it cleared up will add more problems to poor problems. I think people should think before they speak or write but always when being true to oneself.....:-) Hugs


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