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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Advice to Young Teachers (and Certain Obtuse Politicos): I DON'T Know What You Mean

I give lots of feedback to my writing students, probably more than they've received from any other writing teacher.  I tell them, before I hand back their papers, that I can be extremely nit-picky.  I can (and do) pull apart even the most seemingly innocuous statements if those statements are in any way ambiguous.  I also tell them that, for many of them, their initial response to my comments will often be, "Oh, you know what I mean!"

NEVER say to me, "You know what I mean."

If I KNEW what you meant, I explain, then I would hardly need to read your writing.  And if, in the real world, you find yourself forced to say "You know what I mean," then the odds are that your interlocutor does not, in fact, know what you mean.  Be clear.

I thought of this today as I listened to the Mitt-Romney-formerly-known-as-a-presidential-candidate attempt to explain his offensive, condescending remarks about nearly 50% of the American population: You remember, the people he said--actually SAID--he "doesn't care about."  Essentially, his defense was a variation on, "You know what I mean!"  No, Mitt, we don't!

Or, in your case--even worse--maybe we do.

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