I know what I wrote, but it’s not what I meant

Posted 11/5/20

In my column last week, I mentioned one of the shortcomings of the printed word. It’s that thoughts on paper are often limited in their effect since there’s no way to convey things like voice …

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I know what I wrote, but it’s not what I meant

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In my column last week, I mentioned one of the shortcomings of the printed word. It’s that thoughts on paper are often limited in their effect since there’s no way to convey things like voice change, body language and such that are a part of the message.

There are, however, some other factors which affect what’s being said. For instance, computer programs that check spelling and grammar are far from perfect. Sometimes they will insert something that isn’t what was intended, drastically changing the meaning. And if it isn’t caught, well ...

And sometimes there’s the simple human dynamic of forgetting to say something or of seeing what you meant, even if it’s not there. That’s why writers and editors often ask another to go over their product before it’s printed. Think, for example, the difference if you meant to write “I don’t like such and such” and the “don’t” was accidentally omitted.

But of all the possible pitfalls, perhaps the most likely falls under the category of “what I wrote didn’t turn out like what I meant.” And, of course, the mistakes are recorded forever.

Consider, if you will, these examples from church bulletins and newsletters:

• The Fasting and Prayer Conference includes meals.

• The peacemaking meeting scheduled for today has been canceled due to a conflict.

• Don’t let worry kill you off — let the church help.

• Miss Charlotte Mason sang “I will not pass this way again,” giving obvious pleasure to the congregation.

• Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Bring your husbands.

• Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir. They need all the help they can get.

• The Rector will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing: “Break Forth Into Joy.”

• Irving Benson and Jessie Carter were married on October 24 in the church. So ends a friendship that began in their school days.

• Eight new choir robes are currently needed due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

• Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.

• Potluck supper Sunday at 5 p.m. — prayer and medication to follow.

• The pastor would appreciate it if the ladies of the congregation would lend him their electric girdles for the pancake breakfast next Sunday.

• The Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday at 7 p.m. Please use the back door.

• The 8th-graders will be presenting Shakespeare’s Hamlet in the Church basement Friday at 7 p.m. The congregation is invited to attend this tragedy.

Having shared those, let me assure you as a “professional” journalist, I’m not ridiculing those folks. I’ve had my share. Once I wrote a piece about how our local community college was working to increase the literacy of our county’s adult population. The headline, which I wrote, said “Literacy still big problem in Chatham.” That’s OK (I think) but the sub-head I added went on to proudly proclaim: “CCCC working against it.”

That was one of the few times I did get to holler, as the movies show, “Stop the presses!” And one time, our advertising department announced a “Shirt Sale” for a local retailer and an important letter was left out of “shirt.”

I say all that to say this: When you’re called on to write, pay attention. Hang onto your humanity; just make sure it’s the best it can be.

And cut the folks who write what you read some slack.

Bob Wachs is a native of Chatham County and retired long-time managing editor of the Chatham News/Chatham Record, having written a weekly column for more than 30 years. During most of his time with the newspapers, he was also a bi-vocational pastor and today serves Bear Creek Baptist Church for the second time as pastor.


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