Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Largest Whale Penis in the Jungle and Other Big Things: Toward Simpler Messages

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Largest Whale Penis in the Jungle and Other Big Things: Toward Simpler Messages

Article excerpt

There is a history of researchers and theorists discussing particular social interactions and their meanings. More than thirty-five years ago, Krivonos & Knapp (1975), for example, wrote about greetings, how people say "hello" to one another. As somewhat of a punctuation mark in communication, the "hello" may be considered the beginning point of a conversation or a relationship (Berger & Calabrese, 1976). The significance of "hello" was articulated brilliantly by Zunin & Zunin (1972) who claimed that we decide whether to meet a person a second time within four minutes of their first interaction. Knapp, Hart, Friedrich, & Shulman (1973) discussed the "rhetoric of good-bye," which incorporates the other end of the conversation. In some senses, then, "hello" is the beginning of the relationship and "good-bye" is the end. The sequencing could hypothetically even include the time from birth to death, if one thinks of the birth scream as the beginning and death as the final good-bye of all conversations.

Interestingly, hello and good-bye use many different, individual words in the messages. At a simple level, one may be "How you doin'?" "Hey!" "Good morning." "Good evening." "Howdy!" "How have you been?" The variations are essentially personal preferences. The rituals, hello and good-bye, may be encoded through verbal channels and/or through nonverbal channels. When distance is a concern, for example, the two parties may simply wave to one another as a sign of hello and good-bye.

Hello and good-bye appear to create bookends around which any other conversation can take place. One point of this paper is that there are not that many messages that occur between hello and good-bye. Symbolic logic, for example, uses symbols to clarify logic and language by eliminating the emotional components. Through general semantics and other language approaches, it may be possible to articulate most of what we mean with a limited number of messages (Korzybski, 2010). Davis (1973) referred to the "hello" as "getting to know you." The nonverbal symbolic system, in some cases at least, is quite similar (Mehrabian, 2007).

The purpose of this essay is to describe some general principles of such a "system" of simplistic communication, nearly as simple as symbolic logic but including emotional expressions. Emoticons now symbolize the emotions through electronic media. Next, I will discuss one of the messages at length. Finally, I will explain how one of the other messages can be similarly critiqued.

The Basics

Of course, for each sentence we utter, there appears to be a negative of it. Kenneth Burke (1966) focused on the negative as one of the essential elements in his definition of humankind. Thus, for each basic sentence that we say (mean) there is an opposite, negative one. In addition, each message has a time frame. Next, each message has an intensity level. The valence element may be illustrated with three messages:

I shall take the three sentences here to illustrate the point. "I like that," refers to people, television programs, movies, food, marriage, governmental policies, landscapes, etc. The et cetera is especially useful here because "I like that" can apply to almost anything, for the list typically is incomplete (Lee, 1941, p. 63). We rarely use those words; however, when an "attractive" person walks past us, we not-so-subtly (as we may think) stare. Once we get past "hello" with a stranger, we are almost immediately telling that person next that we like him/her or we do not like him/her. Rarely would one come out and speak either sentence in the beginning stages with a stranger either, but intrapersonally (-inside the skin") surely we are making an evaluation. The simple reciprocity and continuing exchange may be interpreted as, "I like that" (in this case, the other person). A lack of any response, or walking away early, or leaving one conversation aside to engage in another with someone else, all indicate, "I do not like that. …

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