Yeah, But That’s Not What I Meant

Alan BelniakGeneral, Marketing, media, Social MediaLeave a Comment

Strangling Statues, from

I wrote this post a while back for a community forum to which I belonged for work. It was a great, nascent time – we were getting the community up and running, members were joining, we were showing people around.  And those first 500 or so members were crucial.  They helped set the tone and culture of the community, whether they knew it or not. And the use of the written word (along with images) is the way to do that – yet the written word is not the spoken word.  Here’s the post below, repeated.

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The written word can be tricky sometimes.  Interpreting it can be even trickier.  We lose tone, nuance, pause, stress, and of course, sarcasm and subtlety.  I’m just as guilty as the next person is of misinterpreting something that someone sent to me.  Sometimes I’m left scratching my head, thinking “Why did they say that?” (or, “Why did they say that?”)  This is potentially dangerous if it puts someone on the defensive, or if they construe it as an attack.


We all like to think that our tone and true meaning come across exactly as planned.  But that’s not always true.  Below is a favorite example of mine that illustrates this point very well.  I can’t claim credit for this – I don’t even know who the original author is, but I Googled the phrase and got it here.  In any event, thanks to whoever wrote this – a tip o’ the hat to you.


Keep this in mind when interacting with fellow community members.  Often times (just about all of the time for me!), we’re simply looking for help and enlightenment, rather than being sarcastic or negative.


“I Never Said She Stole My Money” – 7 Different Meanings

The phrase “I never said she stole my money” has seven different meanings depending on the stressed word.  Is this true of many sentences in the English language?  Yes, but this one example illustrates the point.


  • I didn’t say she stole my money – someone else said it.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money – I didn’t say it, as opposed to someone thinking I did say it.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money – I only implied it.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money – I said someone did, not necessarily her (or even a female).
  • I didn’t say she stole my money – I considered it borrowed, even though she didn’t ask.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money – only that she stole money – it could’ve been someone else’s.
  • I didn’t say she stole my money – she stole stuff which cost me money to replace.

Consider adding emphasis (bold, italics, or _ _ and * *) and well-placed punctuation (like commas and hyphens) when communicating in text.  It can save a lot of back-and-forth messages and garbled interpretations.


image: Strangling Statues, by David Sim (CC BY 2.0)


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