In our school days we used have that nightmarish-for-some questions which went under the title ‘Reference to context’ questions. Usually from a poem best left unread or a horrible boring prose titled ‘नाखून क्यों बढ़ते हैं ? (Why do nail grow?) – Well acclaimed essay by Hazari Prasad Dwivedi – but enough to give me a queasy stomach, much akin to a situation after a triple sundae topped with Tabasco sauce. Not tried it? – Perhaps you should not.
But I am digressing as I have yet to set the context!. One of the things that differentiate a conversation vis-à-vis reading a book say is the context. While having a conversation it is generally assumed that you talk sensibly and understand sensibly and we talk relating what was said before. Most people would come under this assumption. However there are some who may not follow these assumptions and such conversationalists come under the heading called ‘non sequitur-ists’. But let us keep such people aside for now.
A close friend of mine was one day lamenting about many of her near aged relatives and some not so aged and near who passed away due to cancer, stent thrombosis, cardiac arrest and so on. Some on her list also survived so it was not entirely macabre.
While this conversation went on for about half an hour – with my occasional ‘hums’ and ‘Ahs’, and with a few ‘ I agree’ as well, I was happy that a mood shift had occurred thanks to the beep of the washing machine. I was into a bit of day dreaming when I heard – “I am upset trying to locate the owner of the killer genes”.
I was frankly shocked. I said to myself ‘She is really taking these deaths rather seriously and is now try to pin the hereditary cause to some persons known or unknown’ – such clear thinking is thanks to regular watching the CSI series.
But I was hopelessly wrong! – I responded, “Why are you taking it so seriously?”. I went philosophical and said “In the long run we are all dead”. I was given a strange look. The one that people gave to Bond when he walks into the Hotel Rubyeon Royale in Die Another Day.
I learnt that she was actually trying to fix the owner of a pair of Killer Jeans that has turned up in the wash. With the schools on a holiday all the brats were having a vacation at the house and well I was wrong…
I had lost the context.
Context helps us in many ways. In software programming, establishing a context really help in reducing code because we can assume some things that would otherwise be impossible. Effective use can be seen in the familiar context sensitive help. Programmers faced with the a software in the user interface often check on the focus of the application so as to determine what the application is believing to be the current object of interest. That is context for you.
Professional speakers all well-trained to be aware of the context of the audience and are very careful in choice of words to reduce the occurrence of misinterpretation to as little as possible. Otherwise we may as well have such a conversation.
“How can I help you?”
“Two catheters, please.”
“Actually, make that three. “
“Well the ball may get kicked around without a result. I may lose the seat if I get up.”