There’s a hilarious moment in the 1974 movie Young Frankenstein when, after the monster has rampaged around the lab, Dr Frankenstein played by Gene Wilder asks his assistant Igor the name on the bottle stolen from the brain bank.
Igor replies, “A.B. NORMAN”, and of course that’s where the joke lies: he has misread the label “ABNORMAL”.
It’s New Years Day, and I find myself wondering how many frankenstein monsters will be created this year because we misunderstand one another. Of course, Igor’s mistake in the movie is an honest one; many of the misunderstandings this year will be deliberate and sinister, as machievellian politicians, terrorist organizations, governments and their military leaders distort meanings to serve their own purposes.
Gary Eberle’s book, Dangerous Words: Talking About God in the Age of Fundamentalism has fascinating insights about how words are hijacked and misappropriated, and the divisions and damage that result from this.
I am forever misreading the bottles in my own life, and I suppose we all do to a greater or lesser extent. The bottles I misread are just as likely to be misunderstandings with those closest to me as any geopolitical issue. Words are slippery things: their meanings shift and mean different things to different people. On top of that, they’re filtered through our emotions, our prejudices and fears, our distorted world-views.
We all need to check the labels carefully.