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Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

“Turn right here!”

That’s what my husband said from the backseat to his sister as she was driving us to our hotel a couple of weeks ago in Atlanta. He had chosen to sit in the back and let us ladies ‘chat’ (Sounds exist but it is his way of saying he had to look at emails). Now and then he drifted into our conversation, as he always does. So when I saw the hotel and told her to get in the left hand lane he perked up.

Before I could say “Turn left at the next street” she said: “Where do I turn?”

And he said: “Turn right here!.”

Of course she started to move into the right hand lane. So I had to say quickly: “Make a left HERE!”

Of course my husband added: “That’s what I said! Turn right here.”

I said what I meant. He didn’t mean what he said.This happens all the time. We don’t actually say what we mean.  And often there are instances where we don’t understand what is written before us.

This morning I got a question about a website I deal with. The person lost their password, went online and asked for a new one. One was generated with the following instructions: Put in your current password and a new password in order to continue.

The person contacted me because they couldn’t remember their current password.

I waited for about ten minutes and then got the email that said “Never mind. I figured it out.”

Of course the current password was the one just generated. It was the only ‘current’ one. The one lost would be the old one.

Is it just me or do you see things like this happening frequently. Ask someone who is buried and Grant’s Tomb  here in NYC and they might tell you his wife. They think its a trick question or they weren’t paying attention to the words. (I also think they have long since moved Grants body elsewhere)

How we deliver our words does matter. There is a book about this called “Eats, Shoots and Leaves.” It is my favorite study on the misappropriation of language  by incorrect punctuation. Leave out the comma and the  title  refers to a Panda’s diet. Comma in we are talking a criminal act. Punctuation is important. But we got this wrong in so many other ways.

I saw a puzzle on FACEBBOK that said if you could find YOUR NAME in the puzzle you would be considered  in the top 8 % intellectually. Notice that YOUR NAME is capitalized. Even before I paid attention to that I knew my name would not be in there. Most names would not be in there. Briefly I was confused into thinking, does this mean that I don’t have a ‘smart’ name?

Let’s call it a brain fart. I haven’t been tested in a long time and I usually get these things right.

And I did- but I felt like a fool for the delay.

I also felt like a fool two days ago when the taxi driver asked “Make a left?” and I went back to what I was reading and said  “Right”

I caught myself and corrected myself. “I mean you are correct to turn right.”

Such a long sentence. Instead of right why didn’t I just say “Yes?”

Force of habit, force of language.

I really need to remember to say what I mean.


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Minnette Coleman is a writer, actress and singer born in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of two novels “The Blacksmith’s Daughter” and “No Death by Unknown Hands.” She resides in Harlem, New York and is a member of the Harlem Writers Guild.

1 comment to Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

  • Don Frankel

    Now I haven’t been here in a while because I’ve been working on something else but when I went to logon, I forgot my password. But I have it written down.

    But it is a trick question Minnette. It’s Grant’s Tomb. No one is buried there. He and Julia are entombed there.

    It’s good to see you’ve made the jump and landed here too. It’s sort of like the Sci-fi movies.

    Where’s Kaye? I know, I know I can reach her on Facebook and I have but I’ve bugged her enough. It’s your turn.

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