Miscommunicating in the Antipodes

Today I asked my officemate “How do you spell center?” By which I meant “How do YOU spell center?” I asked because I was finding it strange that my Australian copy of Word was red underlining my spelling of “center” and insisting on “centre” instead. In the U.S., at least, both spellings are common and accepted. I was surprised Word was marking “center” flat-out wrong. Not knowing the Australian viewpoint on the matter, I asked the nearest Aussie, my officemate.

Her response was that I should Google it. This also struck me as odd. I tried to explain that “er” versus “re” was the question I was after. Still, she insisted that Google would provide the answer. Slowly I came to realize that her take of the situation was that I truly did not know how to spell the word “center” and was asking her for help.

I had failed to communicate that I was curious about local spelling conventions. Instead I had somehow given the impression I was an utter, drooling moron.

There I was, making notes on an experiment, calculating frame rates in my head so I could program a Matlab routine to display stimuli for the right number of milliseconds, and the person sitting next to me blithely assumed I was a subliterate bogan.

People miscommunicate all the time. I miscommunicate all the time. But I don’t know if it pains other people as much as it does me. Even when the miscommunication does not (as it did today) involve the other party assigning me a single-digit IQ, even when the miscommunication is simple and slight, I feel it as a loss, as a deep pain. How can words fail me so often? Why do I find it so hard to connect with people?


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