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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Did Miss Interpretation make an appearance? Then we need to clarify.

Updated: May 4, 2023

Miss Interpretation is a contestant in the Miss Communication pageant

Miss Interpretation – AKA not getting enough information to know what is meant, which can include something as simple as whether the question is asking…

1. When something is going to be, or

2. If you’d like to go out, or,

3. If you would like a piece of sweet, dried fruit?

What are some other examples of misinterpretation?

Many words, like date, have multiple meanings, like when…

Little Sally looked up from the form she was filling out and asked her mother, “What is sex?”

Twenty minutes later, her mother asked, “Do you have any more questions?”

“Yeah, how am I supposed to fit all that in this little box?”

I’m sure Sally’s mother wished she’d thought to ask a clarifying question and learn the form was simply asking for her gender.

In addition to homonyms like date and sex, homophones are words that are spelled differently but sound alike. Homophones can also lead to misinterpretation.

Did you know there are specific terms for mistaking words that sound very similar? Have you ever heard of an “eggcorn” or a “mondegreen”? They refer to common linguistic errors that occur when the wrong word is heard.

An “eggcorn” is when a word or phrase is used that sounds the same or very similar to another word or phrase, potentially leading to misinterpretation. For example, the word nugget is interpreted as nougat, or the phrase “old wives’ tale” is heard and interpreted as “old wise tale.”

The term “mondegreen” refers specifically to misinterpreting the wording in songs or poetry. The term originated from the Scottish ballad, “The Bonny Earl o’ Moray” where the line ‘and laid him on the green’ was misinterpreted as ‘Lady Mondegreen.’

If you’re like me, you’ve looked up lyrics to a song and realized you’ve misinterpreted the words. Seek clarification and you will avoid misinterpretation.

Miss Interpretation shows up in other places as well. An all-too-common occurrence is when we don’t gather enough information because we don’t want to appear like we don’t understand something others are talking about, or we assume we know more than we do.

What can we do to prevent or overcome misinterpretation?

We need to be willing to ask questions and ask for clarification. It’s better to confess our lack of knowledge early on than remain confused. You might be surprised that you’re not the only one present who needs to be brought up to speed.

Miss Interpretation can be deadly for relationships. Consider how frequently something is said or written with good intentions, but Miss Interpretation hears it or reads it and jumps to the wrong conclusion. Uh-oh. If we’re not careful, our reply could set off an unnecessary argument.

We need to be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt until all the facts and feelings are fully understood. Ask and clarify.

Miss Interpretation can also make an appearance when someone communicates misinformation by mistake. Have you heard of the terms “malapropisms” or “spoonerisms”? They refer to other common linguistic errors similar to eggcorns.

A “malapropism” occurs when an incorrect word is used in place of one that is similar in pronunciation. Well-known examples include when Yogi Berra said, “Texas has a lot of electrical votes.” Or, when Archie Bunker said, “Patience is a virgin.”

A “spoonerism” is a slip of the tongue that switches letters or syllables from one word to another, as in belly jeans for jelly beans, or cakeing a bake for baking a cake.

When someone else makes these types of errors, we can ask and clarify or we can simply overlook and correct the mistake in our head to help them save face.

Miss Interpretation. An all-too-common way to miscommunicate. Take time to ask and clarify.

Are you curious whether misinterpretation is your communication arch-nemesis? Or if not, one of the other ways we “Miss Communicate.” To find out, take the quiz linked from the top of the home page or blog page and put the suggested strategies into practice.

“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” ~ Shannon L. Alder

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