OGDEN AND RICHARDS 55
If you are sitting comfortably in your own chair, you will probably think about it and look at it and feel its comfort. That's easy. But, if you are a barber, you may think about the new chair you need for your shop. And, if you are an instructor, your thoughts may turn to the professorial chair you covet. Some poor soul may think apprehensively about the dentist's chair, or even the electric chair . . .
Words make the trip through the nervous system of a human being before they can be referred outward to the real thingchair, or whatever it is. Don't assume that everyone responds to your words in precisely the same way you do. Make the context in which you use the words clear, and do this through the use of words that refer to specific things.
The simple but important semantic device is to say: Where. When. Who. What.
Too many of us are hesitant about asking What do you mean? We are reluctant to say I don't understand.
A supervisor of nurses in one of our large hospitals told me that Orientals are likely to answer the question Do you understand? in the affirmative, whether they do or do not. Perhaps they feel that they lose face by admitting that they do not understand. This supervisor told me that the question is useless and the nurses say instead Let me see you do it.
One of my favorite expressions is I don't understand just what you are referring to. Will you say that again, please, in another way? This helps me, and it helps the other person, too, to clarify his thinking in relation to things. The question What are you talking about? is semantically sharp, but probably too brash. But we must