Compliments never match complements

Language is ultimately a matter of usage for the purpose of communication. Grammar is never “right” or “wrong” but it can be “correct usage” or “incorrect usage” or “effective” or “ineffective”. New forms of usage always override existing “rules”. The point of language is communication and if that is achieved – to the communicator’s satisfaction – then whatever manner language is used – whether following current usage or not – is a successful use of language.

Chapter 4: Essence of a Manager

Communication: Hearing what isn’t said

Where a communication is intended, the responsibility for what has been understood lies always with the communicator, not with the receiver. It is why the statement “He did not understand what I meant!” actually reflects poorly on the speaker. The intending communicator cannot escape from the consequences of what has been finally understood by the receiver. 

A European in Japan cannot blame the Japanese for not understanding his English. A grandfather cannot blame his grandchild for not understanding his archaic usage of language. The onus lies with the person intending to communicate. It is the communicator who has the freedom – even the prerogative – to comply with or deviate from conventional usage, or to even invent words. The only test is whether the intended communication was achieved.

Language changes and, in itself, the change should not be a matter of regret. If the change helps to achieve better communication then it can only be a good thing. However not all change does help. It is not also just the generational effect. Usage does change with each generation and generally it improves communication within the new generation. (The abbreviations used on Twitter or Snapchat being a case in point). But not always. Sometimes the generational change is to bring in an increase in sloppiness and a loss of precision in the communication. But the responsibility always lies with the communicator. So when misunderstandings arise between people or across generations, the fault always lies with the communicator.

All this because someone used the word “matching” to describe 4 people in a photograph. (The four were dressed similarly in various shades of blue). I couldn’t quite see what the “matching” referred to and in explanation I was offered “complimentary”. Remarkably, it was actually the misuse of “complimentary”, instead of (I think) “complementary” (which itself would have been a misuse), which did succeed in getting me to understand what the “matching” referred to. A case of two wrongs making a right.

A “compliment” may well be flattering but rarely ever “matches” the “complement” which completes. And not to forget that when it comes to colours, the objective of complementary colours is to finally achieve white or black.

If someone takes offense at an intended insult then that is a case of a successful communication. But, an intended insult delivered by swearing in an incomprehensible language fails miserably as a communication.


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