Anyone who’s spent any time trying to review, analyse, editorialize a subject, or really just talk to another human being, has a one point run up against the difficulty of making themselves understood. Communicating one’s thoughts clearly is a monumental undertaking at the best of times but difficulties get compounded when you must do so on paper without the help of emphasis, background context or non-verbal communication and to an audience who doesn’t necessarily share the same frame of reference or even language.
The fact that any of you have even the slightest idea what I’m talking about at any time is nothing short of astounding.
But lately, I’ve seen a lot of posts mention again and again the problems bloggers, reviewers and general ramblers face when it comes time to choosing correct terminology. We all use buzz words as shorthand to express complex notions. After all we don’t want a review of a show to be longer than the show itself and painstakingly describing everything is bound to make for a really boring read. But what happens when words are used so often or in so many different contexts that they lose all meaning.
For example, here are a list of words that mean something very clear to me but are either meaningless or have a different definition to others: Pacing; Yuri; Original; Cliché; Deconstruction; Derivative; Dark; Self-referential… You get the gist
So If I say: This show is a Yuri Deconstruction of a Sports anime but ends up downright Derivative of the Original. I know exactly what I mean but you may think it’s complete drivel. And we might both be right. So what?
I guess we could all get together and create a master aniblog lexicon we could all refer too. It sounds absolutely dreadful and I bet no one ever actually uses it. I know I won’t. I cure writer’s block by making up words. We could all make an effort to find the mot juste as much as possible and make all our posts sound like rejected Frasier scripts. Show went off the air 13 years ago… way to be topical, Irina!
Or we could all agree that this isn’t actually a problem.
The way I see it, it’s ok if you don’t understand what I mean. There are people who’ve known me almost my whole life who mostly have no clue what I mean. That’s on me. I’ve made my peace with it. And it’s ok if you understand something different, after all that’s part of the wonder of communication. How a disembodied idea can travel across space and time changing shape with each mind it touches is actual real life magic. Besides, as we get to know each other, you’ll start to get familiar with my eccentricities. You’ll know that when I say Yuri I mean that there is both implicit sexual content and explicit lesbian themes. You’ll know that my grasp of the English language is tenuous and odd and that I know some real fancy sounding words yet seem to be unaware of common everyday expressions. You’ll realize that sometimes I forget to type out part of the sentence that’s in my head…
Have I mentioned how much I appreciate your patience with my writing. I really do.
Point is, I, like everybody else, have a personal style of writing and favored expressions that I use in particular situations. They aren’t always very clear or accurate, but they’re mine. My style, vocabulary and tone is unique to me, like a scribbler’s fingerprint if you will. And sometimes that will make me a bit challenging to understand, and other times my message will get misinterpreted, and that’s o.k. It’s not impossible that on occasion someone in the comments, having completely misunderstood my point, ended up thinking me much more clever than I was….
So guys please, use whatever words you like. Make up new ones. Teach us your favorites from different languages. Enjoy yourselves, we’re not putting together term papers. Unless you like writing term papers, then do those. And if you really really have to know exactly what I mean, ask me. I’ll be thrilled to confuse you further.
34 thoughts on “A Question of Semantics”
“We all use buzz words as shorthand to express complex notions.”
Myself, I don’t use them as buzz words, I use them as descriptive terminology. (Personally, I hate buzz words.)
Awesome – I love how you just summed up my point! I’m going to have to start asking people to stop being wittier than me in my comments….
Amen to all this! Whatever you’re discussing in the world, there is going to be some sort of specialist terminology. And someone coming in from the outside may not necessarily understand what it means immediately. The important thing, to me anyway, is not whether or not the person has used specialist terminology in the first place, but whether or not they’re receptive to people asking questions if they don’t understand. That’s how we learn and grow, after all — and who knows, asking some “stupid questions” may lead you to develop a new passion for something!
In my case, I know I have at least one reader who follows me for “me” rather than the subject matter I write about, so with them (and people like them) in mind, I did a light-hearted glossary on my site — informative yet (hopefully) amusing. https://moegamer.net/moe-101/
As for making up words… well, I’ve been known to do that too. I think everyone does at one point or another. It’s part of individual authorial voice, and even the biggest names in writing over the years have coined all manner of words and phrases — some of which entered common usage, some of which did not. We can attribute a whole lot of everyday words and phrases today to Shakespeare, for example, whereas back in the day no-one would have had a clue what the hell he was talking about.
Just also want to say massive respect to those of you churning out posts in English when English is not your first language. I wouldn’t have known English wasn’t your mother tongue in any of your cases had you not said anything, and I know I certainly wouldn’t be able to write confidently in any other language, so mad props to all of you doing this!
If you think I write confidently then I’ve fooled you but lie most things – it’s a question of practice. This blog has improved my English writing skills to no end… Maybe you should pick a random language and start posting in it?
When I say things like that I only know approximately what I mean. It’s difficult. I have a hunch about what it is that I want to say, and then after I’ve put some words down, I have a hunch that what I’ve actually said isn’t quite what I want to say. But I’m not quite sure about either what I want to say or what I actually said, but I can see the difference, so it takes some trial and error, until I arrive at something that’s minimised the difference. There’s always some sort of difference, though, because my meaning is shy and likes to hide from the mean, nasty words.
In a way, I’m bullshitting myself through life like that. But I’m not being dishonest about it. It’s that there’s just no alternative. It’s like my screen name. I’m not an early riser, and my temperament isn’t exactly stormy. My screen-name doesn’t fit me at all. But having a screen-name that doesn’t fit me fits me pretty well.
So if you ever find yourself not quite getting what I’m actually saying, you may actually understand me pretty well. Of course, you might not understand what I’m saying in a very different way from myself. I really, really, really don’t know how to figure that one out.
In any case, because of that inherent bullshitty quality I perceive in my own posts, I actually worry more about being a pest than about being understood. You can always work on misunderstandings, but only if you’re welcome. (For example, I deleted two rather different versions of this post, before posted this one – and as I’m typing this, I’m not yet sure I’ll actually hit “P O S T C O M M E N T”. So let’s see…)
I’m glad you did for what it’s worth…
It’s worth a lot. Thank you.
Irina, you seem to have a very creative and flexible mind when it comes to post topics. Never change and keep me guessing with your use of vocabulary and knowledge. 😁
I will do my best! Thank you Scott
Definitely a thought-provoking post. Which means it’s encouraging me to actually think, oh no. I’m not used to doing that!
All jokes aside, great read. Keep being you, Irina. Just don’t bite my head off if I happen to ask you for context or clarification. I need it to eat food.
I am prone to lashing out…I should work on my temper
I guess it’s just a psychological problem – we automatically assume everyone’s on the same page as us when we write out a buzzword like “yuri” or even something like “isekai”, and unless you happen to share a similar mindset or can read the writer’s thoughts, there’s bound to be some misconstruing along the way as to what you mean.
That’s why people need empathy online.
That was a great article. There are times where I do use some big words that make sense with what I’m saying (I think I use the word “ramifications” more than most people in reviews). I also go into more in-depth things like the storytelling or the cinematography if I talk about live-action films. I’m a writer and I have done film work, so I want to show that I know what I’m talking about. Some people have been confused since I review lesser known movies and anime, but I hope people can see where I’m coming from.
I’m sure they can.
If you say so. Hahaha! I do my best to research things and make good points why or why not I liked this or that. Speaking of which, I felt that I had a good batch of reviews that I posted yesterday.
think the issue isn’t the words but more that people are using them as if they are self-explanatory and good or bad in and of themselves without evidence or explanation. Using your example: “Yuri Deconstruction of a Sports anime but ends up downright Derivative of the Original” – you wouldn’t just leave it there. You would explain how it deconstructs sports anime and what original it is derivitive of and how that plays out and whether the Yuri elements were good, bad or otherwise and whether they added anything to the sports anime genre. So starting out with your statement or concluding a post with it would be fine because the rest of the post should support it. The issue is when someone says something is derivative but never explains how it is derivative or whether it is derivative in a good or bad way. Most things are derivative so just saying derivative isn’t helpful.
Then again, as has been pointed out, I’m prone to making words up. Most recently ‘Steampunkesque’ which was definitely what I wanted to say but I probably could have found a better way to say it.
Steampunkest should be a word and seems clearer than “derivative” all things considered.
You seem to have a way to read my thoughts! I was just thinking about my writing like yesterday! I’m not English so sometimes I have trouble finding the right words (heck I even struggle when I try to write in my native language xD) I do think we all should write the way we intend to… One of the main things to write a good blog is being unique and well… No-one is equal to another person! So being yourself at writing just helps! XD but I also believe that it’s important to try to improve yourself and your writing. I try to write the same way I talk in my blog because that’s what I want to do it, but having a little more vocabulary to describe things (specially the animation) couldn’t hurt xD
I figure that comes with time. We have a lot of non native or non habitual English speakers (myself included) so sentence structure and turns of phrases vary a lot and I think that’s great!
Buzzwords are a useful shorthand sometimes, and shouldn’t be completely discarded, but it’s helpful to think about the context in which you’re using them and how much room you are willing to leave for the reader to fill in their own blanks.
To elaborate, one of the things that makes writing such a challenge (albeit a fun one for me) is that it is ultimately an exercise of inviting the reader into the author’s headspace. It is true that in the end you have to be comfortable with your own “voice” as a writer, and beyond a few basic rules of grammar there really is no “right” or “wrong” way to do it, but it depends on what your goals are for what you’re writing. There’s always a give-and-take between writing as a didactic art where the writer totally controls the headspace because they want to communicate very specific information to the reader, and writing as a collaborative art where the writer gets the conversation started and encourages the reader to share the headspace and add their own imagination or interpretation from there. Good fiction writing requires both, for instance – for scenes that are critical to the plot, I’m going to share very specific information because I need all my readers on the same page and clearly understanding what is happening. For other scenes like establishing the character’s hometown, I can engage the reader’s imagination by just giving them a few broad strokes of what kind of place it is, and let them fill in the rest of the details themselves (much like anime characters often have their personalities painted in broad strokes, which makes it easier for viewers to quickly “identify” with one of them). It’s no different with blog posts – a “conversation starter/what do you think” post or a “here’s my quick first impressions of this series” post is a different style of writing from doing a detailed analysis of the cinematography of [insert series] episode 4, or an editorial essay on a fandom issue that’s very important to you. For the latter two, you’re probably more likely to choose your words carefully so the reader can follow your thoughts, versus the more casual posts where a broad buzzword might just be good enough to get the point across, or even help stimulate the conversation.
I think we’re saying the same thing?
Oh so you want to tell me that you’re in actuality a big Black man?
Still looking good, Irina! 🙂
Thanks Shoka. it’s such a relief to finally be able to be me
I know right?!
You joined OWLS for a reason!
And you are most welcome.
Haha, well…I have an altogether even worse problem: I’m Dutch. So, even though I understand English very well, and can write it, I am constantly in fear of misspelling things or using incorrect words to describe something. Honestly though, when I come across something I have never heard about, I do some research on the phrase or word. That way I learn something as well while reading a post. It doesn’t happen very often though. I usually understand what the writer means, and so far I have had not a single problem in trying to understand your posts, or what you mean with certain phrases. If that will happen at one point, I will be sure to let you know 😉
I’ve read it on your site but it’s stunning that you’re not a native english speaker. I gave up on spelling properly a while ago, I generally try to make sure I’m sticking to English words and call it a win!
You know, sometimes there are posts which urges me to question my depth in vocabulary; this post is one of them.
But then again, I have decided to work hard on my language and literary skills so that I could be in the same league as you.
By the way, congrats on confusing me yet again XD
Job accomplished!!!!! Also you’re posts are lovely and very well written – please don’t make them worse because of me
This is a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious post!
…I can’t believe I actually remembered the word and typed it out by hand…
Now that’s a skill!