December 8th, 2013


Triad of the Tried and True

1. "Do you have a larger-scale map?"

Does larger-scale mean showing a larger amount of territory in the same amount of space? Or does it mean the opposite - i.e. making the territory appear larger on the map itself? Both make sense to me.

2. "We put the meeting back a week."

Does this mean that the meeting has been "put back" into the past - i.e. it will now happen one week earlier than originally intended? Or does it mean it it has been delayed - i.e. it will happen one week later? I can never remember.

3. "Up to 50% Sale."

Does this mean that the highest price of all items in the sale is 50% of its RRP? Or that that's the lowest price? Is the glass half full or half empty?

Currently I know the answers to all these questions, because I just looked them up. But I've done that before, and I know from experience that I will forget again very shortly. We can explain the problem by reference to the inherent ambiguity of these phrases, but then all language is ambiguous. The problem lies in me, surely - but is it a problem at all? I read in Mary Butts's journals that she (a fluent French speaker) could never remember the difference between demain and hier - which speaks to me of a similar trick of the brain. She saw this as a sign of her mystical semi-detachment from the realm of linear time, rather than an inability to learn basic vocabulary. That's base self-flattery, of course - but it's a tempting thought.