The Gordian NotComplications Ensue
Complications Ensue:
The Crafty Game, TV, and Screenwriting Blog

Baby Name Voyager graphs baby name frequency by decade.

Social Security Administration: Most popular names by year.

Name Trends: Uniquely popular names by year.

Reverse Dictionary Search: "What's that word that means....?"

Facebook Name Trees Match first names with last names.


April 2004

May 2004

June 2004

July 2004

August 2004

September 2004

October 2004

November 2004

December 2004

January 2005

February 2005

March 2005

April 2005

May 2005

June 2005

July 2005

August 2005

September 2005

October 2005

November 2005

December 2005

January 2006

February 2006

March 2006

April 2006

May 2006

June 2006

July 2006

August 2006

September 2006

October 2006

November 2006

December 2006

January 2007

February 2007

March 2007

April 2007

May 2007

June 2007

July 2007

August 2007

September 2007

October 2007

November 2007

December 2007

January 2008

February 2008

March 2008

April 2008

May 2008

June 2008

July 2008

August 2008

September 2008

October 2008

November 2008

December 2008

January 2009

February 2009

March 2009

April 2009

May 2009

June 2009

July 2009

August 2009

September 2009

October 2009

November 2009

December 2009

January 2010

February 2010

March 2010

April 2010

May 2010

June 2010

July 2010

August 2010

September 2010

October 2010

November 2010

December 2010

January 2011

February 2011

March 2011

April 2011

May 2011

June 2011

July 2011

August 2011

September 2011

October 2011

November 2011

December 2011

January 2012

February 2012

March 2012

April 2012

May 2012

June 2012

July 2012

August 2012

September 2012

October 2012

November 2012

December 2012

January 2013

February 2013

March 2013

April 2013

May 2013

June 2013

July 2013

August 2013

September 2013

October 2013

November 2013

December 2013

January 2014

February 2014

March 2014

April 2014

May 2014

June 2014

July 2014

August 2014

September 2014

October 2014

November 2014

December 2014

January 2015

February 2015

March 2015

April 2015

May 2015

June 2015

August 2015

September 2015

October 2015

November 2015

December 2015

January 2016

February 2016

March 2016

April 2016

May 2016

June 2016

July 2016

August 2016

September 2016

October 2016

November 2016

December 2016

January 2017

February 2017

March 2017

May 2017

June 2017

July 2017

August 2017

September 2017

October 2017

November 2017

December 2017

January 2018

March 2018

April 2018

June 2018


Saturday, July 04, 2009

I was listening to Brooke Gladstone's ON THE MEDIA podcast about the difficulty of obliterating public misconceptions (e.g. "Barack Obama is a Muslim"). She was talking about how people don't remember "not" well. If you try to sell people on the concept that "Barack Obama is a Christian," you might convince some of them that he's not a Muslim. But if you try to sell people on "Barack Obama is not a Muslim," it might have a short-term effect, but in the long term, all anyone remembers is "Barack Obama" and "Muslim." Your efforts actually entrench the misperception.

Similarly, when Richard Nixon said, "I am not a crook," people identified him (even more than they already did) with the word "crook."

Partly this is the Denial Paradox. When a guy denies he's a crook, what goes through most people's minds is, "why does he have to deny it? There must be some truth to the accusation."

But there's something deeper going on. Negation is a surprisingly advanced concept, it turns out. I know because I got my 5 year old daughter's "report card." She's mildly autistic, so she's speaking at roughly a 3 year old level. She's learned basic grammar (SVO) and lately she's mastered the more difficult protocols for using "I" and "you." These are difficult because she can't just repeat what the teacher says. She has to swap the words. "I give you the brush" becomes "you give me the brush.") The two main things she hasn't learned at all are tense (was/is/will be and negation. If you ask her, "Give me the ball that is not red," she'll give you the red ball. So negation is at the same level of abstraction, it would seem, as time.

How does this help you writing scripts? Be careful when you use negation. It's easy to write a line like this:
  • Sandy's wearing a lot of makeup, but it's not at all whorish. It's actually rather well done.
Unfortunately, while you know what you mean, and your reader is intellectually capable of parsing your meaning, what she will actually take away from the sentence is the word "whorish." It's visual and grabby. The word "not" requires too much processing. It's likely to get lost. Your character will appear whorishly made up in her mind.

Instead, write this:
  • Sandy's wearing a lot of makeup, but it's beautifully done, like an actress going to the Oscars.
Use this power only for good. It would be wicked, in speechwriting, to say things like, "Sarah Palin is not a flakey bimbo," knowing the audience's poor ability to process negation...



This is a pretty terrific post. Thanks so much!

By Blogger Muffin MacGuffin, at 10:30 PM  

Sorry, all I got from your post was that Sarah Palin is a flaky bimbo who wears whorish make-up. Is that the gist of it?

By Blogger Tim W., at 11:24 PM  

One principle of advertising says slogans should always be affirmative because words evoke images.
Try not to think about a monkey with a hat.

By Blogger Legor, at 4:07 PM  

Post a Comment

Back to Complications Ensue main blog page.

This page is powered by Blogger.