The Danger to Dogs Of Not Saying What You Mean

This morning, the BBC published an article entitled “Wife cake and evil water: The perils of auto-translation” and then somewhat not saying what the real translation of the cake and water (or evil and wife) was actually meant to be.

The article was about the different methods used by online translation software and the move from phrase based statistical translations to artificial neural networks that are structured similarly to the human brain and use complex algorithms to select and use the appropriate translation.  This will hopefully get closer to what people actually mean.

Back in my first few weeks of working in Holland I would tend to have the menus in restaurants translated, but usually only when someone working in the restaurant asked if that’s what I wanted.  I got some enjoyment out of attempting to translate it myself and then guaging whether I was right or wrong based on what was presented in front of me from the kitchen.

On one occassion the translator was running down the menu.  “Chicken, cow, umm, sorry, beef, umm, dog…”

“Wait, what? Dog?”

“Yes, dog.  Little dog,” she answered with a gesture of one hand above the other to show us that the dog in question was the approximate size of a Yorkshire Terrier.

Upon further investigation, and possibly prompted by our desire to walk out the restaurant, it turns out that this particular breed of Yorkshire Terrier had big ears, a bushy tale, likes carrots and goes by the regular name of “rabbit”.

Saying what you mean isn’t always easy even in your own language.

This weekend in Great Britian we’ve seen stories of backtracking on pledges made if Britain left the EU with comments of “I would never have said that” or “that wasn’t I meant”, despite it being what people believed.  Of course, in politics especially there seems to be a tendency not to necessarily talk with someone but to talk past them or at them.  This can lead to mis-interpretation due to lack of understanding of meaning and lack of questioning, so while the talking may have been good, the communication definitely wasn’t.

Your behavious or psychology can also be reflected in how you speak.  Scientists have done reasearch that shows that psychopaths have a certain way of talking, using lots of dysfluencies — the “uhs” and “ums” that interrupt speech – as they seek time to think about what they’re saying and then using subordinating conjunctions including “because” and “so that” to prove that their actions were the result of a logical plan. Psycopaths also say about twice as many words related to basic physiological needs and self-preservation, including eating, drinking and monetary resources than non-psychopaths

Talking of thinking about what we say, I remember having “one of those” conversations about feelings with someone who would stop and pause after what I said to think about it, and would even tell me that that’s what she was doing. It felt like the most artificial way to talk about emotions and feelings because the very planning of what said loses that entire context for me. Not saying anything in those pauses said more to me than the words.

Actions, as they say, do sometimes speak louder, and regular readers will know my opinion on selfies where saying nothing but presenting a carefully orchestrated persona usually for the sole benefit of approval to feed self-worth and receive positive reinforcement of ourselves or our decisions can indicate something deeper than “hey, I’m stood in front of a wall and here’s my [face / arse / impression of a duck because I can’t smile properly]”.

Then, of course, there’s knowing what you want to say, but not being sure if it’s an appropriate time.  This is especially the case with those three little words that are so simple yet dripping with such heavy meaning.  No, I don’t mean “I want cake“, I was meaning “I love you”.  Duh.

According to Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D — one of the world’s leading experts in the study of emotions — when it comes to saying, “I love you,” there’s often an emphasis on timing.  The timing, though, isn’t always about how long you wait but rather around the context of the relationship, and with the profoundness and sincerity in which you say it.

There’s a lot of things I want to say to a variety of different people at the moment that fall in to all those scenarios:

  • Why did you say that to me, and now you’re saying you said the opposite?
  • That feels pre-planned and it’s freaking me out!
  • If that’s what you wanted why didn’t you should just have said properly.
  • I loved you and I miss you.  Can we talk?

The reason I don’t is that it doesn’t feel like saying those things will achieve anything.  It doesn’t feel like saying them will influence the people that I need them to influence, and yet I can hear someone in my ear saying that it will have a positive effect on me, not bottling it up.

As Timi Gustafson puts it in the Huffington Post:

Obviously, neither positive nor negative feelings arise in a vacuum. An essential part of emotional well-being is our ability to create and maintain a conducive environment where our various needs are satisfied and our bodies, minds and souls are nourished. Not all, but a great deal of that is within our control and can benefit from our care. That in itself should give us cause to feel better.

What we say does have an influence, somewhere.  It can get people to vote, it can change opinions and it can build relationships.  Although we don’t always manage it, it feels like we have a duty to say what needs to be said.

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me.
Is there anyone at home?
Come on, now,
I hear you’re feeling down.
Well I can ease your pain
Get you on your feet again.
I’ll need some information first.
Just the basic facts.
Can you show me where it hurts?

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like two balloons.
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain you would not understand
This is not how I am.
I have become comfortably numb.

Just a little pinprick.
There’ll be no more aaaaaaaaah!
But you may feel a little sick.
Can you stand up?
I do believe it’s working, good.
That’ll keep you going through the show
Come on it’s time to go.

There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship, smoke on the horizon.
You are only coming through in waves.
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying.
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown,
The dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd

Comments 1

  1. You are such a thoughtful, thought-provoking, and wonderful writer…thanks for sharing 🙂

Leave A Comment?