I was on FB this week (shocker, I know) and chuckled when I saw the meme below. And yet it’s so true. The English language is full of ironies and of challenges that can make it difficult to communicate. As a writer, I have to try to ensure there’s little room for doubt about whatever I’m trying to convey.
There are some great examples of confusing language at plainlanguage.gov. (See? More irony!) Like this one:
“The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.”
What the what?! Sure, it makes sense if you are well-acquainted with our fine language, but a reader may find the meaning deserted him before he got the point.
Here’s another one:
“The farm was used to produce produce.”
A reader could be left scratching his head of lettuce over that one. Or maybe he’d be right scratching. I guess it depends on whether he’s ambidextrous.
Often some confusion can be cleared up by rewriting, and I think it also helps when the two identical words are not right next to each other. If I were rewriting this sentence, I’d likely change it to something like, “The farm produced a shit-ton of produce to please the leaf-loving vegetarians.” (No offense intended, veggie lovers … I consider myself a full-fledged meatarian.)
Of course, a rewrite could use a different verb to clarify: “The farm grew produce.” It doesn’t have much panache, but at least the meaning is clear. That’s where some fantastical adjectives can help give it color: “The 200-acre vegetable farm produced varied vegetables for vegans and vegetarians alike.” (Remember my affection for alliteration!)
Try reading this one fast:
“All the faith he had had had had no effect on the outcome of his life.”
I borrowed that example from the Grammarly blog. This example’s grammatically correct. It really is. But talk about something that could confuse the ever-lovin’ snot out of the poor reader who just wants to understand what you’re talking about.
There are plenty of instances where the same word means something totally different and can trip up the reader, who may have to re-read a sentence a couple of times for it to make sense. (Shouldn’t it trip the reader down? It’s hard to trip up. Just another example of the ironies of our fabulous language.)
Are there any words that trip you up – or down? I’d love to hear about them! Please comment and share what stumps you.