Thursday, August 6, 2009

Elements - Moving Gingerly

It’s an expression we all use - “I’m moving gingerly.” It may even bring to mind an image of how you were the day after you started playing tennis again - after years away from the sport.

There is, despite its familiarity, a mysterious aspect to the phrase.

What does ginger have to do with it? Is ginger a solution to the problem? If not, why do we say moving gingerly?

Even without knowing the answers, it is easy to see that this, like so many other phrases we commonly use, is there to help us communicate.

The use of this phrase in the English language can be documented at least back to 1607 - the same year the first permanent English settlement in North America, was established at Jamestown. It may have been in use as much as a century earlier. It’s been in use so long, its exact origin is a matter of debate. Well, at least for those who debate such things.

The point is - while a speech must of necessity use words, a language uses more than words. Colloquialisms, common understandings if you will, even when the reason for use of the specific words involved is unclear, are essential to communication.

Common understanding is key to communication, and that is the ultimate purpose of every good speech. Even when the topic about which you are speaking is one which must be approached “gingerly.”

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom



  1. I disagree that "common understanding" is the ultimate purpose of every good speech. Driven by ulterior motives, some good speeches have been written to alter opinion, and/or manipulate one's understanding and not establish a *common* understanding. And ironically, such devilish tactics are posed, ever so "gingerly."


  2. JD - Thanks for your comment, but that's not exactly what I said.
    I said "Common understanding is key to communication," which I think most would agree is certainly true. The sentence went on to say "That," meaning communication, "is the ultimate purpose of every good speech." I think you would have to agree that communication, no matter the motives - whether ulterior, nefarious, or benevolent, is the purpose of every good speech. After all, why give a speech if it is not to communicate something to the audience?

    I do have to agree with you that some good speeches have been written to alter opinion, and/or manipulate one's understanding and not establish a "common" understanding. The Gettysburg address was one such.

    My point is not that the purpose of a speech is to create a "common understanding," but that a common understanding about certain elements of language is necessary, to create a speech!

    A very different thing, indeed. Thanks again for commenting.

  3. I agree with Tom. There is a book about our education system called "Cultural Literacy" and the main theme is how we must all assume a certain level of understanding of the world around us that is commonplace. However, not everyone is culturally literate, and therefore a speaker who assumes an audience member has a certain foundational knowledge can talk over that audience members head.

  4. Marc, thanks for the comment. I would agree that not everyone is culturally literate. There are probably some out there who believe the Gettysburg address was where President Lincoln had his vacation home!

    Fortunately for most public speakers, those folks less fluent in cultural literacy usually don't show up to hear public speakers. Which still doesn't absolve the speech writer of the duty of seeking a common understanding for the audience.

    Thanks again for your comment, Mark!

    From The Bully Pulpit - Tom