Dear Users of Nouns, Pronouns and Verbs,
I would like to make the bold request that you be more precise when speaking/singing/writing. Using ambiguous nouns and verbs makes it difficult for the reader to decipher what you intend to communicate. Ambiguity can also result in entrapment or even death, as this letter will no doubt prove.
My first example is something that happened to me today. I was exploring my school campus, looking for a place to read alone, when I found a really great balcony. The door leading to the balcony had several signs on it, and I read each one. Scrawled in some messy penmanship on one of the signs was the statement:
Door will lock after closing.
I thought about this for a moment. Did the author intend to communicate that the door would lock after the building closed or after the door closed? I went with the former, assuming that, had the writer meant the latter, they would have written something like, “Door will lock when it closes,” or “This door locks from the outside,” or even “Prop the door open by any means if you don’t want to be stuck on a balcony for the rest of your life.”
I soon discovered my mistake and was forced to call a school admin to let me back in the building. This incident could have been avoided if the wording on the sign had been more specific.
The next example is a very serious one indeed. You may be familiar with the band The Postal Service. The opening line of their song “Clark Gable” is:
I was waiting for a cross-town train in the London Underground
When it struck me
What struck you, Postal Service Lead Singer Guy? To what does this “it” refer? Because, to be honest, every time I hear this song, I imagine you standing on the rails, waiting and thinking deep thoughts. And then I imagine an underground train rushing out of nowhere, hitting, and killing you. (As a side note, I do realize that that intention of the writer is clarified one line later. However, as a result of the construction of the song, I still feel that the pronoun used here is ambiguous.)
These examples clearly illustrate just how important it is to use clear language. If you don’t, you may end up in serious danger…or, at least, the subjects of whatever you’re writing, may end up in serious danger. Either way, it’s something to pay close attention to.
I hope that this letter persuades you to be more careful and specific in your word usage.