Re: Connotation vs. Denotation

Subject: Re: Connotation vs. Denotation
From: Jonathan Price <jonprice -at- AOL -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Apr 1994 18:40:42 EDT

But you can't ignore the overtones of words like these. And think of the
situation. The user has just tried to do something. The computer refuses to
comply, and offers three options, two of which look the same (abort and
fail). The subtle differences posted here do not occur to most users. Why
would I want to fail? Why would I want to abort? I just want the computer
to do what I told it to before. So in the context, the words are puzzling, to
say the least, and often meaningless, except in an ominous way. The user's
thrown back to the overtones: death and defeat are in the air. When the
meanings are as innocuous as folks say, why did the Microsoft team choose
these terms? Why didn't they have the courtesy at least to explain what the
options mean? Most people interpret the phrase as a variation on: Do you
want to shoot yourself in the stomach or the head, or try again? When you
say that we can ignore the connotations, that's true, but it's more difficult
to do so when the denotation is unclear.
You imply that people are willfully thinking of fetuses when they see
Microsoft's message. But who wrote the message? What was that group
thinking of? Why did they think that expressed their meaning well?
If you are a rhetor, then you must acknowledge that the original author (the
team) has to take responsibility for frightening folks, through fuzzy
denotation, and scary connotations. I consider that hostile on their part.
(This is where style reveals ethical choices.)

--Jonathan Price
Communication Circle
918 La Senda, NW
Albuquerque, NM 87107

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