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Tuesday, April 7, 2009 -- 6:20 pm

There's probably an essay to be written -- if I haven't written it already, in these disorganized pages -- about the capacity for even well-educated, well-spoken people to fundamentally misunderstand one another, no matter how carefully they choose their words. One aspect of this entire puzzle is that I think people may tend to fall into certain habits of expression that automatically select certain precise and idiosyncratic meanings, and assume that those constitute the only reasonable interpretation of what they've said, when in fact the words they've chosen are ambiguous -- as in fact all language inherently is. I think that this is part of what makes it so difficult to translate ancient literature, or even some contemporary philosophy, or the e-mailed remarks of someone you simply don't know very well: lacking the appropriate cultural framework to arrive at a reliable interpretation, the best you can do is supply your own, together with your own private assumptions and preoccupations. And that is likely to fall short of the mark. And thus people who labor in solitude and are used primarily to the company of their own thoughts, are particularly prone to being misunderstood, as are people who have hitherto traveled in different circles and are now talking to one another for the first time.