Change a single word and everything looks different. I was browsing Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful people and I noticed that at 44 is Kim Jong-un, Supreme Leader of North Korea, and at 45 is Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank. Mixing up these two people would have earth-shattering consequences. North Korea could suddenly become the world’s most successful economy and the World Bank might launch long-range nuclear strikes on all countries that aren’t paying their debts.
You’d think that language would be less sensitive to such confusions. You no its easy to mishear watt sum won says and waist a lot of thyme in this whey.
All good engineering projects have redundancy and failsafe built in. But with language, even a single letter out of place can spell disaster. So be careful and don’t confuse your homonyms with your homophones.
When I was learning French, I practised by listening to weather forecasts on French radio. I could understand about 90% of what was said. So, I could tell you with absolute certainty that today it would either rain in Paris or not rain in Paris. Tomorrow, in Marseilles, temperatures would be either 15 degrees minimum or maximum. Just one little word eluded me, and I knew nothing.
English is a particularly dangerous language to use for important discussions because it doesn’t require agreements in the way that French or most other European languages do (what computer programmers call a checksum.) So whose bright idea was it to make English the international language of diplomacy?
Fortunately, language does have some error-correction methods built in. Huh? What did you say? What do you mean by that?
That’s right. They’re called questions. If you don’t use them often, you’re heading for disaster.