I’m feeling a little embarrassed about my last post, seeing how the very thrust of my gist was undermined by a failure to notice a tiny piece of the supporting text, a piece that apparently directly contradicts my position. But more than embarrassed I’m feeling irritated, as I’d actually gone to some lengths to carefully pore over the text before going out on a limb and publishing my thesis. And yet, despite that effort, I was still wrong, tripped up by a few little words whose impact had failed to register in my mind.
It’s so easy for a mind with momentum to overlook little words. It’s why it’s so hard to proofread your own work, to notice what you’re actually seeing when you have such strong expectation of what will be there. But when these little words can so significantly affect meaning, failing to catch them can cause problems.
I remember back when I was working in France and needed to find an apartment. Vacancy rates in Paris are very low, and no sooner would the local rags with the classified ads hit the streets when it seemed like all the rentals would be snatched up. I got so discouraged always hearing, “L’appartement est déjà loué (the apartment is already rented),” in response to my inquiries that I called up the next place anticipating a negative answer.
“Is the apartment already rented?” I pessimistically posed my inquiry. “Est-ce que l’appartement est déjà loué?”
“Non,” was the response. “The apartment is not already rented. Il n’est pas déjà loué.”
But all my brain registered at first was the “est” “déjà” “loué ” — and reflexively hung up.
Sometimes the little words really do matter a lot…