The newbie walked in to The Don’s office. It was old-school classy: wingback stuffed leather chairs, snifters on a tall mahogany table, everything wood and deep red. A lingering cloud of smoke from the consigliore’s cigar hung in the air. He sat down across from The Don, who leaned back in his chair, a warm and welcoming look on his face.

“Sit down,” he said in his strained, breathy voice.

“Thank you Don,” the newbie said, a false air of confidence in his tone.

“I have a problem with Giuseppe’s wine shop on the corner of 3rd and Franklin,” The Don said, “I want you to take care of it for me.”

“Of course, Don,” the newbie replied, “anything for you.”

The Don said, suddenly grave and serious, “I want you to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

The newbie was confused. He paused. His thick New Jersey accent came out and he said, “What, like a million dollars or something?”

The Don was flabbergasted. He swiveled his chair toward the consigliore, who stood behind him, stoic, and said, “Who is this guy, I thought you said he could be trusted.” He swiveled back toward the newbie. “No, I want you to threaten to rub him out.”

The newbie was visibly shaken, nervous. He said, his voice quivering, “I don’t understand, Don, like with a big eraser?”

Where can I go with this? Is newbie politely escorted out of the room? Shot? Given formal instruction on the lingo of the mob?

Perhaps The Don would have been better off being more concrete, something along the lines of:

“I want you to get in your car, drive to 3rd and Franklin, park your car, walk into Giuseppe’s wine shop and inform him in no uncertain terms that we will kill him unless he gives us our money.”

What we have here is a case of associative language gone awry. Of course, if you’ve seen any of The Godfather movies, you know what The Don was talking about. This method of using language is one of the reasons language so often goes wrong.

Imagine being a third wheel in a conversation between two very old friends. They seem to speak in code, complete with inside jokes, references to experiences only they shared, nicknames, subtext, words with double meanings and slang. No doubt you and your friends or significant other have a similar sort of way of communicating.

It’s also one of the reasons learning a new language can be difficult. I spent a year studying French in college before actually traveling to France. I was so confident with my conjugations, my infinitives and had built a nice working vocabulary. But when I got there, I found it was one thing to make myself understood—not terribly difficult—but it was nearly impossible to understand anyone. I can only assume what I was hearing was a barrage of informal, associative language.

This use of language framework in THEE is a relatively new and underdeveloped addition to the website. Much is yet to be discovered or not quite precise enough and it cries out for your feedback. 

This is one of those THEE phenomena that, when you read it, you realize that it’s referring to something very common and unremarkable in your life, something you’ve known intuitively for as long as you could speak. But it’s when depicting the whole that it becomes useful.

Associative language is one of seven types of using language, and maybe the most common. But knowing about the other six is useful because each of them have their appropriate time and place. For example, you use Concrete language when you follow a recipe. You take advantage of Universal language when you read a newspaper article about a complex topic outside of your expertise. Ironically, those with expertise in said topic may find the article total garbage, because their knowledge on the topic has them using Conceptual language, which allows for far greater understanding of complex concepts.

As a writer and artist, I take the most pride in my work when I effectively use Gestalt language, the language type designed to awaken inner awareness and excite passion, rich in metaphor, metonymy and imagery. It is the language of the poets, sages and great orators.

Understanding the differences in using language types goes along way in communicating effectively. In what type would you say this blog is written?

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