Anyone who’s spent any time trying to review, analyze, editorialize a subject, or really just talk to another human being, has at 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.
In the past, 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 is 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 to. It sounds absolutely dreadful and I bet no one would ever actually use 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. The show went off the air 15 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’m talking about most of the time. 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 actually 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 (not many) 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 favoured expressions that I use in particular situations. They aren’t always very clear or accurate, but they’re mine. My style, vocabulary and tone are 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…. Score!
So guys please, use whatever words you like. Make up new ones. Teach us your favourites 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.
21 thoughts on “A Question of Semantics”
You know, I very rarely see misunderstandings or requests for explanation on the web. It’s mostly: “That’s not what X means.” And to say that you must know the intended meaning, or at least that it’s not what you think the term should be used for… (That’s especially obvious with corrections, though I don’t see this much with anime.)
I see a lot of differing interpretations. I sometimes read posts where I come away thinking the author hasn’t enjoyed an anime much only to read a top comment saying I love that anime too! So one of us is probably wrong there.
It’s probably me; I don’t read that many blog posts.
Somehow I doubt that
Wouldn’t it be fun, if we were talking past each other, considering the topic? (I sometimes don’t even know what I myself am saying.)
“…make all our posts sound like rejected Frasier scripts.”
^ made me laugh 😂 Frasier and Niles sure loved to use their wordy words lol
On the topic, I understand your concerns but ultimately reading your posts’ usage of such “lingo” could be how people learn about it! Which is great.
That is a great point. Language is a living thing, it expands and evolves.
I don’t know what you’re talking about, Irina. I have never found your posts anything except perfectly clear in communicating their meaning. And, sure, all media and conversation spaces have their particular lexicons and technical expressions. And, yes, that is a way that “insiders” sometimes demarcate themselves from “outsiders” in order to exclude or exercise some form of control or privilege. But I have never had that sense with you, and your deployment of specific phrases has always struck me as both considered and necessary.
I wonder – has someone been taking a shot at you because they don’t like your “writing style”? Or have they accused you of using terminology in an arrogant or exclusive way? If so, tell them (to quote that great moral philosopher, Homer Simpson) to cram it with walnuts. I don’t think you would have the audience you do, or get the corresponding feedback, if your writing was obtuse or pretentious. 🙂
Not at all. People have been lovely. But I do have to explain terms at times like the way I use antagonist or I call Steins;Gate a harem because its about one character with a whole bunch of other characters that fall in l,ove with him rthat sort of stuff.
I wrote this particualr post a long time ago after reading a fellow blogger post about how the word Pacing no longer had a meaning and andother post urging to stop using the word Dark in reviews because it’s senseless. And I really saw the point of that so it always stuck in my mind.
All communication over the Internet is “flat”, that is without the body language, tone of voice type of communication hints that we take for granted as humans, and our inventive little minds fill in those gaps which often results in some major misunderstandings. So there’s that.
But to the larger point, I’ll just say I’ve been married to the same man for 30 years and we can STILL misunderstand each other completely. Now, we do know each other well enough to think, “did I just hear that?” and ask for more definition – and get it because communication is just a big thing of ours. But we also have what amounts to our own language after 30 years. For instance, one of us can say “Yard work” and we both laugh, and roll our eyes, and no one around us has the faintest idea what we’re talking about. But we do 😀 (The short version is we took a day job to do “yard work” and ended up digging wet shitty sand out of a flooded horse barn four feet down to the base rock. I could kill the idiot who popularized the idea of sand as horse bedding btw but that is yet another story. The person who chose the position of the barn without regard to rain flow and the priviledged rich bitch who thought this was a “little job” that could be done in an hour or two…)
Not to mention a few phone calls I’ve had in the last decade where I stop somone who is jabbering along and ask them if there is anyone in their office who speaks English. They tell me they are speaking English. Yeah, maybe YOU think that’s English, but as an English speaker from birth (albiet American English) I can’t understand a word out of your mouth. But maybe it’s me. Now and then I overhear a conversation on the bus between people who are speaking a sort of, I’m not sure what to call it, “ghetto patois” maybe? No offense meant, but again, don’t have a clue what you are saying.And that’s the intention in that case, of course, to exclude anyone not in your group.
It’s a wonder any of us can make ourselves understood. And yet, somehow, we do. The key is being calm, open, and interested in communication. Willing to make an effort to look up an unknown term, to parse things in context, to ask for clarification.
I’ve probably had to look up a term now and then, but I have no problem at all understanding you. Or…at least…I think I do…
OTH I’ve written a post/article I meant to be hilariously funny and had my head cut off for being rude and insulting and so on. So who am I to talk?
That’s cause you’re special Foovay! In the good way.
You have a point about falt digital communication. I guess that explains the popularity of stickers, gifs and emojis.
awww I’m speshul…
I think it’s fine to accept that there’s always going to be some level of misinterpretation between two people, but I would always strive to improve on that. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say that you can say whatever you want. I care that my point gets across, so I’m always going to work towards that. But you make a point about personal style, and I think that’s also important. As long as you’re remaining consistent in usage, people who are reading are probably going to pick up on their meanings.
It’s funny that you bring up particular labels, because I also feel that some labels have become stretched so far that they no longer have a clear meaning. Ask multiple people what a harem anime is, and you’re likely to get multiple answers. Deconstruction is probably in a similar spot, since it’s probably reached the point where it could describe any show now. That’s not to say an individual couldn’t have a specific definition for themselves, but I often reach the point where I question whether we still need those specific words.
I was recently trying to define comedy in a post and in our community it seems it applies to everything that isn’t just a straight up depressing tragedy.
For me, that’s just a sign that the word is no longer performing its intended function. I’d love to be able to look at tags on an anime and get a general sense of what to expect, but that’s completely impossible these days.
If you think the anime community has too many ridiculous buzzwords, the gaming community is much worse. Any time I read about the latest indie Metroidvania roguelite with deckbuilding RPG elements, I feel like blood is going to start shooting out of my eyeballs. And I actually like, uh, at least two of those genres 🙃
I like 3 of them!
It’s impossible for one to completely understand another, via language or otherwise. I agree with you that the fact we try is in itself respectable and valuable!
I think you’re a great writer and an even better communicator. I never leave an article wondering what the hell I just read 😂
And that is saying a lot considering I don’t really follow anime!
Wow! That means a whole lot. Thank you