“His enemy was dust”
As I read this on the train from Gravesend to Durham the other day, I had to re-read this sentence several times. Was it saying that the character was beset by dust and as a result considered it his enemy or was it that his enemy had been destroyed and was now dust and that he didn’t need to worry about them any more?
Putting aside the fact that there could well be some poor punctuation in the sentence, much like the classic description of a Panda “Panda: Eats, shoots and leaves”, it got me thinking about the importance of emphasis on our words and how that emphasis can completely change the meaning of what we’re communicating.
In hypnosis and NLP, this is called “marking” where we deliberately embed suggestions in what we say and write by using things like pauses, punctuation and putting emphasis on specific words of phrases within an otherwise normal piece of speach or text.
In IEMT (see the glossary), one of the sentences I use regularly to help a client elicit a certain feeling is “When is the first time you can remember that feeling?” What I do is “mark” some of the words with emphasis in order to embed a command and what I actually end up saying looks more like “When is the first time you can remember that feeling?”.
Can you see the difference? In asking a question, I am actually delivering a suggestion or embedded command that the client’s unconscious mind will pick up and act on (in order to make it truly effective I combine this with other subtle communications but that’s the art and science of psychology and one of the reasons I love it).
Returning to my example at the start of the post: “his enemy was dust.”
Now say the sentence out loud with the emphasis on each word in turn:
- HIS enemy was dust
- His ENEMY was dust
- His enemy WAS dust
- His enemy was DUST
Doesn’t the emphasis on the different words completely change the meaning of the sentence!
How much does the emphasis, be it pronunciation, punctuation, tempo, pitch, spelling, font etc. make on the interpretation of YOUR communication? Next time you’re in a public place and you can overhear people talking, why not listen out for those markers and see how you could have changed the meaning of the communication simply by stressing the same words in a different way or in a different place.