I just returned from a memorial service for my husband’s (Peter) family in Colorado. On the last day we gathered for a group photo – Peter’s brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, their children. I thought my parents might like to see how the kids have grown, so I decided to send them a copy of the picture. And I took the time to label everyone from left to right, including me and my husband Peter.
My dad – a man of few words wrote back – “Beautiful photo. Thanks. Where are you?”
I took that to say “where are YOU?” How could he not see me? I responded, “I’m between Peter and Sarah.”
He wrote, "That was not the question. Where ARE you in the world?”
This time I figured he was asking “where ARE you located right now?” I responded, “We’re back in Atlanta. Got in late this afternoon.”
And that was that, so I thought.
Then I recounted the ridiculous misunderstandings to my husband, and he told me my dad wanted to know where the picture was taken.
Just because you know what you’re saying doesn’t mean the reader will understand. I love the example of the simple phrase He was hard. According to Merriam Webster, the word hard has 14 definitions: not easily penetrated, sharply defined, physically fit, difficult to bear, lacking consideration, harsh, etc., not to mention the erotic meaning. So if you write he was hard, do you mean that he was a difficult man, a physically fit man, a man of unrelenting feelings?
Be diligent with your word choices. Confusion begets misunderstanding. And that can lead your reader down a slippery slope.