On the British sketch comedy show The Two Ronnies, a man walks into a shop and asks the clerk for “fork handles.” When the clerk gets him four candles, the man says, “No, fork handles—handles for forks!”1 When the customer ambiguously asks, “Got any O’s?,” the clerk brings him a hoe. “No, O’s,” says the customer. “Oh, hose!,” says the clerk, and brings him a hose—before the man clarifies that he needs letter O’s for a sign.
We all face the dual challenges of thinking and communicating clearly, which impact all areas of our lives. Whether we’re grappling with new ideas, relaying plans to friends, pitching a start-up to potential investors, or writing the next great American novel, success requires clearly formulating our thoughts and finding ways to get them into the minds of others.
The consequences of failing to do so range from humorous to life altering. It’s just another day when my wife, for whom English is a second language, asks for ChapSticks with her sushi or sings along to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” “Hold me closer, Tony Danza!” On the other end of the spectrum, how many relationships—personal and professional—implode over poor communication? . . .
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1. “Communication Problems,” YouTube, February 20, 2018, https://youtu.be/dBT6u0FyKnc.
2. Rochelle Bilow, “Want Your Marriage to Last?,” Your Tango, November 18, 2013, https://www.yourtango.com/experts/rochelle-bilow/want-your-marriage-last.
3. Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979), 10–11.
4. Helen Sword, “Beware of Nominalizations (AKA Zombie Nouns),” YouTube, October 31, 2012, https://youtu.be/dNlkHtMgcPQ.
5. David Stove, The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), 103.
6. For an excellent account of the skeptical, antireason intellectual tradition stemming from Kant, see Stephen R. C. Hicks, Explaining Postmodernism, chap. 2, “The Counter-Enlightenment Attack on Reason,” expanded ed. (Ockham’s Razor, 2011).
7. Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Toronto: Random House Canada, 2018), 263.