Why Would You Care What I Say?

The continued existence of lawyers, speech-writers, poets, and sundry other professions confirms that how you say something can be as powerful as what you say. However, this talk provides evidence and a way to apply the technique without spending years in study and practice; and does so in an (appropriately enough) accessible and engaging fashion.

Of course, speaking in the language of the person you wish to reach agreement with is as old a technique as the bilingual secretary or guide. And, as with foreign languages, it’s an obvious thing to do in the abstract, but a very much harder thing to do when you suddenly encounter a new tribe. So, how does one speak political truth in the language of the other?

Perhaps a start lies in an opposite of the reason one wishes to stir others to action? If a measure would help the poor, then consider ways it would be good for the wealthy. If a policy would help the disadvantaged abroad, then consider ways it would benefit this country.

Or begin with the worst reason to do something one can think of. How does your truth strengthen the case of a group you dislike? Maybe you have an ally in an unexpected place. How does your idea weaken the case for something you want? Perhaps it’s better to spend money on the workers of this country than not spend it at all. Why does someone’s reason matter? It might not steal the benefit from the needy if a step is taken to bolster a nation’s reputation rather than out of selfless service.

Some of the ideas produced might seem actively unethical rather than merely poor, but – if we seek to language to influence the Other – considering reasons that definitely wouldn’t influence someone who thinks like we do is a good place to start.


Terms of Endearment

Romantic books and films show the path from first meeting to forever as a series of struggles and reversals; show love as a disruptive rather than supportive force. Which makes sense, as fiction without challenge usually lacks interest. However, this unconscious acceptance that love is pain might go deeper than that; deep enough that we need to change our language.

Bird Lizard Horse by August Smith

Bird Lizard Horse by August SmithTaking the worrying image that each expression of a concept is soul using imperfect flesh to form imperfect language for imperfect flesh to interpret for soul, Smith provides a solid example of why people who are at a party with your girlfriend might be having more fun than someone trampled by horses; and makes you smile while doing it.

Eating Cake with Grendel

‘Don’t feed the trolls’ is a phrase most people with more than a passing experience of internet discussion have encountered; and there is much to recommend it as a default position. However, not everyone has cause to be scared of trolls. Or agrees on what a troll is. So are there situations where it is reasonable or even beneficial to sit down with trolls? I believe so.


Over the years there have been many books written on understanding what animal behaviour means, research which suggests that various animals are more intelligent than suspected, and variously successful attempts to teach animals to use sign language. Like all right-thinking people who share their home with a cat I fully believe that cats are intelligent. I also believe that they are less prone to deceitful behaviour than humans. However, their intelligence is less comprehensible than that of a child.