Interesting words

The word “interesting” recently appeared as feedback on work I had completed. But what does the word mean?

A compliment is definatley intended when I myself use the word. My interpretation is that interesting work is thought-provoking, insightful, appealing, and not ordinary.  All in all, I consider it a a positive endorsement.

However, for others the word can be a vague catch-all, or a polite way of saying that the work is not so good. Alternatively, it can be used as a nice synonym for “I really don’t understand this work at all but for various reasons I cant say that”.

Hence, we need context. I’ve decided that the rest of the feedback I received was positive, so I’m taking a glass-half-full perspective.

Other words –

Words, their meaning, and thinking enough about such words is prominent at this time of year when exams galore are being sat and marked.  I’m reminded of the challenges our English language poses for non-native speakers. Even more interesting is how the challenges vary depending on the native tongue of the learner.

An example is the distinction between “few” and “a few” for Chinese students. When native speaker says there are few differences between x and y, they are suggesting that the number of differences are low in number and the number is downplayed. When they say that there are a few differences, they are suggesting that quite a number of differences exist. Even more problematic is that the actual difference in quantity implied between the two terms could actually be very little depending on the context in question.

Even native speakers argue over words that are used in day-to-day communications. An example is the word “affordances”.  For example, “web 2.0 technologies carry many affordances to improve student collaboration” seems straight-forward. It implies to me that the technologies have much to offer the enhancement of student collaboration.

However, what does it really mean?  Does it refer to the ethos of the technologies or their features?  Does it refer so one or some or all qualities (a vague term in and of itself) of web 2.0.  Web 2.0 technologies are of little use to a dial-up internet subscriber, thus can they really be labelled affordances?  Equally, web 2.0 technologies are wasted on those who consider such technology time-consuming or troublesome to use – no affordances there.

Hence, is the statement an example of that terrible faux-pas – the sweeping statement?  Is the term “affordance” just too lose a term and needs to be explained when it is used?

Or, is all this a mere over-interpretation and an example of linguistic banter by people with too much time on their hands?

Tomorrow’s mental exercise – take a sentence that you have just uttered, heard or read, pick a word in it and ask yourself what does it really mean?  Then, consider the extent you got into linguistic knots. Finally, ask yourself if you are a wiser person after the experience.

Posted on June 9, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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