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September 2000 - Pop or Soda?

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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September 2000

Pop or Soda?

In July we saw an example of where words can mean different things to different people. Another problem is when different words can mean the same thing. Many things are called by more than one name. For example, when my adolescent son, Marc, and I went to a restaurant in the South shortly after we had moved here from the Midwest twenty-five years ago, Marc asked the waiter to bring him a “pop.” The waiter didn’t understand until Marc said, “You know-pop, it comes in a bottle or a can; you shake it and it fizzes.” The waiter said, “Oh! You mean a soda.” But “soda” meant something else to Marc, and there were a few more moments of confusion until the waiter and Marc understood one another. Soft drink, soda, and pop all mean the same thing when used in the same context. The name used depends on who is doing the talking.

How many things in the English language are called by more than one name? For a starter, consider that the 500 most commonly used words in our language have a total of about 15,000 definitions-an average of 30 per word. The following sentence will serve to illustrate the point.

Fred has been crestfallen since he fell out of favor with the Fall Festival Committee last fall after he had a falling out with Joe because Joe had fallen in with a new crowd of people rather than falling in love with Fred’s sister, Fallina.

Not a great sentence, but it illustrates a few of the more than 50 meanings of “fall.” These two barriers - same words meaning different things and different words meaning the same thing can be overcome if you realize the following fact. Meanings are not in words, meanings are in people. We communicate more effectively when we consider a message in relation to its source.

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

September 2000 - Pop or Soda?
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