Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

We’re Saying the Same Thing Here!

Posted by Neal on April 30, 2009



Adam’s been sick this week. The past couple of weeks, actually. In fact, he’s been sick for most of the year, with one sinus infection after another. He seems to get just well enough to go back to school and catch something else. His adenoidectomy during spring break was supposed to help, and maybe it will eventually, but the more immediate effect was interfering with his resistance enough for him to catch pneumonia. Now he’s on a five-day course of steroids, which has the effect of weakening his immune response even further, and keeping him up until midnight or so. We’re not sending him to school with all that going on, so he’s continuing to rack up absences, and any day now I reckon we’ll be getting the district-mandated letter expressing concern and hinting at consequences. Oh, well.

Adam signed up for soccer this spring, but has only been to one practice and none of the games the whole season. On Monday night as my wife and I were discussing Adam’s visit with the doctor earlier that day, part of our conversation went like this:

Her: Adam shouldn’t do soccer this week.
Me: It’s the last game anyway, and he hasn’t gone to any of the practices.
Her: Well, all the more reason for him not to do it.
Me: Right, and I’m not going to send him.
Her: We’re saying the same thing here!

She was right: We were both saying he shouldn’t go. So why did it feel like we disagreed?

Unfortunately, that was my fault. My wife’s message presupposed that I needed to be told that Adam shouldn’t do soccer, and I have to admit that it was a reasonable presupposition. All those times Adam got well enough to go back to school and catch the next thing? That was because of me saying, “OK, he’s been fever-free for 24 hours now, so he ought to go to school!” So when I said it was Adam’s last game I was countering not the at-issue proposition that Adam shouldn’t go, but the presupposed proposition that I might just send him out there. In other words, I was saying not so much that I wouldn’t send Adam to soccer, but that I hadn’t planned on sending him anyway. On the surface, we agreed, but under the surface, she was saying, “I’m telling you he shouldn’t go,” and I was saying, “No, I’m telling you he shouldn’t go!”

Don’t even talk to me about swine flu.

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One Response to “We’re Saying the Same Thing Here!”

  1. Viola said

    It’s pretty easy to misunderstand each other’s intentions or undercurrents of conversations when your kids are sick. Sleep deprivation doesn’t help. Holt & Gregg give Adam their best get-well wishes.

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