Friday, June 24, 2011


From linguist Deborah Tannen's You're Wearing THAT?:
A daughter reveals something personal in the spirit of closeness. Her mother, wishing to protect her daughter and to see things go well for her, offers advice; the metamessage she intends is caring. But the daughter hears a different metamessage: that her mother disapproves of what she is doing and therefore of her. This implication hurts the daughter's feelings, so she lashes out, hurting her mother's feelings in turn. Both are tied up in the knots created by the double meaning of advice: while it offers to help, it also implies that you're doing something wrong; otherwise you wouldn't need advice. The knots are hard to untangle because, more often than not, the threads that form them are found not in the messages, which are easy to pinpoint, but in metamessages, what the words imply.
Linguists know all the answers. If only that meant we could solve all the problems.

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