Saying What You Mean, and Meaning What You Say

As I embark on a new week of lecturing and learning with my classes at Emory, I’m hoping to communicate clearly. I’ll also be preaching Wednesday night at Cannon Chapel. I have been known to stick my foot in my mouth. I’m pretty sure that I’m not alone.

I know a few preachers, and I resemble the remark, that can get so tongue-tied that what’s said is barely intelligible. In the homiletics field a verbal faux-pas is called a “spoonerism.” Examples include: A lack of pies (A pack of lies), It’s roaring with pain (It’s pouring with rain), and Wave the sails (Save the whales). They are named after the Rev. W.A. Spooner who lived from 1844 to 1930. He served as Dean and Warden of New College at Oxford University. He was said to unknowingly make verbal slips frequently. His verbal goofs were especially legendary at chapel services. Once when officiating at a wedding it was reported that he gave the following directions to the groom: “Son, it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.” How awful!
 
Preachers aren’t the only ones who say things that are taken the wrong way. One of my favorite stories of miscommunication is the one about a “snowbird” from the North who wanted a week’s vacation at a Florida campground, but was concerned about the accommodations. Uppermost in this person’s mind were the toilet facilities, but the person was too proper to write “toilet” in a letter to the campground owner. The inquirer finally abbreviated “bathroom commode” to “BC” and asked in the letter if the campground had its own “BC.” The campground owner was baffled by this euphemism, so he showed it around, but nobody knew what it meant. Finally, someone said, “Oh, that’s simple. ‘BC’ means ‘Baptist Church.’ The letter writer is asking whether the campground has its own Baptist Church.” So the owner sat down and wrote: “To Whom It May Concern: I’m sorry about the delay in answering your letter, but I am pleased to inform you that a BC is located just nine miles north of the campground and is capable of seating 250 people at one time. I admit it is quite a distance away if you are in the habit of going regularly, but no doubt you will be pleased to know that a great number of people take their lunches along and make a day of it. They usually arrive early and stay late. The last time my wife and I went was six years ago, and it was so crowded we had to stand up the whole time we were there. It may interest you to know that there is a supper planned to raise money to buy more seats. They’re going to hold it in the basement of the BC. I would like to say that it pains me greatly not to be able to go more regularly, but it is surely no lack of desire on my part. As we grow older, it seems to be more of an effort, especially in cold weather. If you decide to come to our campground, perhaps I could go with you the first time, sit with you and introduce you to all the folks. Remember, this is a friendly community.”
 
How can we straighten out our communication before we let the ship hit the sand? Key to both good communication and love is listening, thinking things through before they’re said (or written). Someone said that fifty years after his family had left Germany, Walter Kissinger was asked why he didn’t share his famous brother Henry’s heavy German accent. “I,” he replied, “am the Kissinger who listens.” Amen!
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