Context Matters

Context Matters.png

Hi everyone, Harmony here 🙂

 

Recently, I came across the following statement:

‘Solvent abuse can kill instantly.’

 All okay so far, right?

Then, I read on …

‘Try me, love me.’

 

Again, taken in isolation, this seems fine, too.

However, when we put them together like so:

can

It leaves me quite unsure whether to laugh at the irony or jump on my soap box and rant on about the absurdity of the message that this shaving foam company has inadvertently sent out. For certain, putting these two together—one right below the other—proves contradictory. At best, the ‘Try me, love me’ cancels out the warning that ‘Solvent abuse can kill instantly,’ or, at the very least, lessens the impact.

All of which, as you’ve guessed by now, led my thoughts down a rambling path about context. Back in November, while reading a book, I came across the following sentence:

‘He was a man of choleric humor:’

 A reasonable assertion on its own. However, what follows the colon turned it on its head …

‘He was a man of choleric humor: made for sunshine, laughter, and good fellowship.’

Again, as standalones, they work. The trouble comes, however, when we link them together. Because, of course, Choleric means the opposite of those positives and rather indicates ill-tempered, irascible, and crabby, etc., and thus the second clause contradicts the first.

The above-mentioned book is written in American English and uses modern Americanisms—again, nothing wrong with that. Until you discover that the writer intended it to read like a historical fictional novel set in 1500s England. And then it jars. The language we use has to fit the context, no matter how grammatically correct it may be, otherwise.

When we write, we not only look to get it technically correct but also for authenticity.

It all has to fit.

As writers, we can play with context creatively. For me, nothing feels so satisfying than writing a thing to read one way, and then switching it out. This works especially well in poetry. Take the following examples:

The mountain

softening

the edges of the clouds

 and

Life

offering

no more

taking without thinking

In each verse, the final line flips the reader’s understanding to something entirely other. It’s not the mountain softening, but the clouds. It’s not life offering no more, but no more taking without thinking.

Even here, where we change the context deliberately, we have to use that context and make sure it all fits. That it all makes sense. We take our readers by the hand and lead them down the garden path. And who knows where that will lead?

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Context Matters

  1. An excellent reminder on context, Harmony. And it’s so easy to miss sometimes, which is why editors are so important.

    Also critical as you said is setting the language to the era. I read a lot of historical novels, and when I come across one where the dialect or descriptions don’t fit the time period, I’m immediately thrown out of the scene.

    Liked by 2 people

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