"That's me in the corner; that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion."
That is the main line of a very famous song by a band called R.E.M., made popular in the early part of the 1990s. For years, it has been interpreted to mean a variety of different things. One of those meanings has proven to be quite controversial; teenagers with conservative church going parents often banned the song as they believed it encouraged a general abandonment of God.
In fact, this interpretation of those lines is about as accurate as saying that what the Beatles really wanted to be was commercial mortgage lenders. REM is a band from Georgia, in the southern United States. In that geographic area, the term losing your religion means getting very angry, in effect losing your temper.
Understanding this little bit of regional dialect could have avoided a lot of people a lot of embarrassment, and also saved a lot of controversy. Of course, controversy never hurt a publicity effort, just ask the dad who said his kid broke through tamper evident seals to fly a balloon across a state.
Unfortunately, though, misunderstandings of language do not happen in a way that creates a positive outcome. As we have seen from the REM song, this can happen when everyone involved speaks the same language. How much more often can it happen when people are trying to converse in two different languages?
That is why it is very important to try and establish exact meaning of a phrase or term before you make a decision about what message is being conveyed. Where you might think a person is trying to sell you gold bullion bars for well below market value, they might actually be insulting you. Or, you could think they were insulting you and react accordingly, when what they had to say carried no negative connotations at all.
So how can you establish context when we are talking language issues? Well, research is always the key, and there are several different methods available. First of course, if you are talking right to a person, you might ask their meaning outright. That's the best form of research, because you will immediately know if they are encouraging you to buy organic diapers or making fun of your baby.
Hopefully your language issues are coming about in a reading context, rather than face to face, because these type of communication problems are a bit easier to fix. Research on them is easy; just consult an expert or a book on local dialogues.
Sometimes language misunderstandings are humorous. Sometimes they may result in discomfort; dozens of people show up to your home expecting you to be selling estate jewelry, when you were advertising an open house. And sometimes they can be severe. All can be avoided with a bit of patience and research.
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