The Art Of Communication

I like the definition of communication given by www.businessdictionary.com that talks about a process of reaching mutual understanding, where participants not only exchange information but also create and share meaning. This is a process that obviously takes more than one person. That point was apparently lost on me as a child.  At that time, there were quite a few of my fellow (North) Americans that spoke Spanish in Southern California, and yet when it came time to choose a language to study in school, as required, and having a choice of Spanish, French, German, and possibly Italian and Japanese, I picked German because I wanted to be different.  I studied the language for six years and like to think I was decent at it, but then again, there were no Germans (to speak of) around to contradict me.  Many years have gone by and I can still count past twelve, but some might argue that I didn’t get the most bang for my educational buck.  Now I am surrounded by people in Southern Florida, some who have been visiting for over fifty years, who still have trouble with English and don’t understand why everybody here doesn’t just speak Spanish.  But I am not the only one who has struggled with the concept.

Several weeks ago I saw a gentleman walking down the street wearing a T-shirt with the following sign: i 8 Sum Pi

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To translate, the first symbol is the square root of negative one, which technically doesn’t exist, but is more commonly represented by the small letter “i” as the basis for all imaginary numbers.  The second expression, two to the third power (2x2x2), reduces to eight.  The third, the capital Greek letter Sigma, is seldom seen alone because it represents the sum of the sequence that follows.  The last symbol is the small Greek letter Pi, which has come to be known as the most famous irrational (meaning it never ends and never repeats) constant – representing, among other things, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.
The common name of each of these symbols resembles an unrelated English word, so the expression can be pronounced “I ate some pie”.   But what was the wearer really trying to say?  Mathematically, the expression is meaningless, so its sole purpose seems to be to announce to a select audience what was on his lunch menu.  Maybe the fewer the people who knew that he went off of his diet, the better, so this may be an attempt at a confession without guilt.  While that seemed harmless enough, it reminded me of another obscure message I had seen before.

While driving down the road ages ago, a Jeep passed me that had the following array of small international maritime signal flags displayed on its back window:International maritime signal flags Each of these flags, which are used by navies and merchant marines around the world, has a name taken from the phonetic alphabet.  Along the top row is Foxtrot, Uniform, Charlie, and Kilo.  On the second row sits Yankee, Oscar, and Uniform again.  Individually, each flag has a meaning (for example, Oscar means someone has fallen overboard), or in small groups they could represent short code words.  Sometimes they just represent the letter at the beginning of their name.

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If you want to try to impress your friends at parties, I just found out the term for that (the naming of letters in an alphabet so that the name begins with that letter) is called acrophonyD.
Although I thought the Jeep owner’s words were clear enough, I wasn’t quite sure about his/her message.  Was this message for general audiences, in which case the owner is an ineffective coward, but was probably getting a chuckle imagining himself (or herself) smarter than every other person on the road and able to insult them with impunity. Or did s/he have some problem specifically with sailors? Maybe that’s what s/he wanted to be when they grew up, but either got seasick too easily or didn’t work well with others in confined spaces, and so was taking their frustrations at his/her own inadequacies out on the very group they wanted to be part of.  Who knows?  I followed the car into a parking lot and after s/he went inside I carved the phrase “Roger, out!”D into their back tire, which went flat when I applied the punctuation.

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Although based on a true story, the ending of the last paragraph was changed to better illustrate the range of possible consequences one should expect for one’s actions.  The truth is that when s/he turned into the parking lot, I just kept driving.  I decided they couldn’t possibly have been talking to me.  (Luke 23:34D comes to mind.)


In radio communications, “Roger” simply means the message was received and understoodD. It does not mean agreement. “Out”, as I’ve mentioned beforeA, means “and this conversation is finished.”.