As you know by now, language matters. The words you choose and the tone you convey impress your audience in particular ways. Some of these effects can be learned and anticipated – to be used on purpose (logos, pathos, ethos) – and others will occur accidentally, unintended as “meaning” but meaningful nonetheless.

mrcapatiiller wrote about being quoted poorly, “I think my response was taken out of context or not very well used as I was just expressing my frustration” (random act of kindness, “we are all researching to fight for something” Comment 18).

It was one of those (damn!) unspecified pronouns that got us (me as writer, you as audience, and mrcapatiller as source) in trouble. The direct, exact, quote included an unspecified pronoun, which I ‘filled in’ with the referents that the context seemed to indicate. Some students read an equation of ‘legalization of marijuana’ being somehow ‘equal’ with ‘Hawaiian independence.’ I read the original statement as frustration and thought that the context of the paragraph in which I wrote clearly indicated the comparison I was making between those feeling optimism (social change is possible), those experiencing disbelief (Hawai’i is not a state of the U.S.?!), and the few who admitted a sense of helplessness.

One of the decisions you need to make as a writer is whether you want to want to understand the role of your words in a larger conversation. mrcapatiller’s statement by itself, in the bit published in response to an assignment, became important through its contrast with other statements.

Now, here is the original quote in its entirety. Do you see the context? and the problem in quoting it?

Laws and Lawyers and Legislation and stuff like that make me want to go live in the woods, much like how my project is making me feel. There is just so much red tape to everything these days u cant just kill someone with a bigger stick and say tough shit its my way now. I mean I’m not very big but I still think I’d be happier with our legal system if it worked that way. I feel bad for the Hawaiian nationalists that want to free Hawaii from America just like I feel bad for myself for wanting to legalize pot because it wont ever happen even though it is so obviously the right thing to do. maybe I’ll just go get a big stick and tell the Hawaiians to join me.

~ mrcapatiller, November 6, 2007

And, my citation in context:

unknown29 wrote “research is a really important step in writing…if we want to write something purposeful we have to do good research and apply the rhetorical situation to it” (comment #5). pbandjelly noted, “Everything that was presented with evidence…The speakers knew their case very well and any question that was asked of them they had a quick comeback and good support for waht they had to say” (comment #2).

mrcapatiller, though, is bumming: “Laws and Lawyers and Legislation and stuff like that make me want to go live in the woods….because it [Hawaiian independence, legalization of marijuana) wont ever happen even though it is so obviously the right thing to do” (comment #6). -( Why is mrcapatiller’s response so different than mjolliner89, who claims: “It was a relief to see the success of their hard work and solid belief. This case gives me … the knowledge that with earnest and quality research, lives can be changed (comment #12).

Stephanie Jo Kent, November 6, 2007

So now, what options? Could I have written it differently?  Could you (readers) have read what I wrote differently?  Could the original author have written differently?  Of course any of these changes “could” have been, but they weren’t, and so – in that situation – what do we do next?  What do we (you!) learn from this that you can share as advice or observation for me and each other?