presuppositions

Micmanz Lanugage Improvement series

The famous dramatist, Bernard Shaw, is noted for his brilliant wit. But many don’t know that he was a not too handsome bachelor. A beautiful lady once approached him and said, “Mr . Shaw, would you like to marry me Then our children would be as intelligent as you are and as charming as I am. Won’t that be wonderful” Shaw thought for a moment and said, “I would rather not, madam. I’m afraid they might turn out to be as intelligent as you are and as handsome as I am!” Well, Shaw’s presuppositions were quite different from those of the lady. There are instances where we make statements with certain presuppositions. However, in the very act of translating our thoughts into words, we miss the bus somewhere on the way, and our listeners get a message quite different from what we intended. Let us look at some notices collected from hotels and restaurants (Courtesy: Laughing Matters by Peter Medgyes) “If you consider our help impolite, you should see the manager.”  What the notice wants to convey, is that impolite behaviour on the part of the hotel staff should be reported to the manager. But the unintended message, which the reader actually gets, is that the manager is even less polite than the staff ! “Guests are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9am and 11 am“. It looks as though every guest must complain during this period. The more appropriate way of saying this would be: Guests may complain at the office, if they need to, between 9am and11am daily. In the above instances, the structure of the sentence played the mischief. Often the choice if a wrong word might lead to confusion. “In case of fire, do your utmost to alarm the hotel porter“. What the writer intended was to “alert” the hotel porter. The word alarm conveys the meaning frighten. “You are invited to take advantage of the chambermaid“. To take advantage, here, has sexual connotations. But the innocent meaning is: You can take the help of the chambermaid. Would you like to set right the following notices ?

  • It is forbidden to steal hotel towels please.
  • If you are not person to do such thing, is please not to read notis.
  • If your order is not satisfactory, please return the product to the counter and we will replace it with a smile.
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