Text Interpretations

“In speaking to an unknown or invisible audience, it is impossible and unproductive to account for the full range of plausible interpretations.” Pg 32

I would add to this that using text instead of voice adds to another layer of possible misinterpretations. On social media I often see people quoting songs, tv shows, or speeches or interviews that they feel the need to share. By putting spoken word into text and taking out context they are able to change the meaning of whatever they want.

For example, Donald Trump, while a master of Twitter, is apparently unaware of scare quotes. Scare quotes are “quotation marks used around a word or phrase when they are not required, thereby eliciting attention or doubts”, or, in other words, they make the quoted word sound ironic. So when Donald Trump says:


“I win an election easily, a great “movement” is verified, and crooked opponents try to belittle our victory with FAKE NEWS”


He probably doesn’t intend to mean that the word “movement” was used to belittle his own movement, but it humorously can be interpreted this way.

(WordPress won’t let me upload an audio file without a premium account so here’s a youtube video of me explaining.)

Donald Trump is fairly certain that people will interpret his tweet the way he intends, mostly because he is such a famous figure that most people understand his stance and thus know how to read his tweets. But when, the examples given in the book, parents read their childrens’ posts online, there is a generational disconnect that could lead the parents to completely misunderstand what is said.

While Donald Trump’s intentions are easy to understand due to his public presence, not every hashtag and quote is as easily put into context. Take for example the recent Digiorno Pizza debacle, where the official Twitter account for the product completely missed the point of a hashtag, and had to apologize.


It’s easy to make a mistake like that, because the words that make up the hashtag don’t, by themselves, indicate what the hashtag is about. Further context is needed.
I wholeheartedly agree with the text that plausible interpretations are hard things to control for when posting on social media. The contexts of conversations or hashtags, slang and symbols of different groups and generations, and translations from spoken tone to written word are all things that could lead a reader to interpret something that the author didn’t intend.


Author: Devon I

UD student, Junior English major.

6 thoughts on “Text Interpretations”

  1. I agree that it is easy to misinterpret text over voice communication. I have experienced this situation plenty of times when texting my family or friends. It is so easy to misinterpret a text message, email, or social media post, just like DiGiorno did. That is one of the major downfalls of communicating through the digital media. Also, I think that is it one of the major reasons why people love adding emojis, pictures, and gifs to their messages. These images help portray the message better than just the digital text itself can.


  2. I like how you bring up the idea of misinterpreting things posted on the internet. I agree that because we do not have the opportunity to read facial expressions, hear tone or inflection, etc., it is a lot more difficult to determine the true meaning behind a message when it is on a screen. There have been plenty of times where I have found myself questioning the meaning behind a text I’ve received or a tweet I’ve seen. Moreover, I like how you use the example of a tweet from Donald Trump to bolster your argument. I agree that even while deftly using twitter to rally his base, even the president is not free from the tangle of misinterpretation and scrutiny of those reading his posts.


  3. Devon, YouTube says it’s “Alec Korman” reading the Trump tweet, but Alec or Devon, the point is made brilliantly through intonation. You’ve identified an interesting problem in shifting from speech to writing—one that artists can sometimes exploit, but that can trip up lesser mortals. I enjoyed this post! ~Joe


  4. It is obvious to say that not everyone is masterful and strategic when it comes to the world of social media and we can all agree that it is very important for public figures to master that skill. People who work in public relations can find themselves working on a single tweet for even hours because every character and hashtag counts. People do not realize who meaningful these small messages can be until someone like Trump uses them in a way we are not sure how to interpret.


  5. There is nothing worse than reading things out of context when the publisher intentionally means to do so. I hate coming across an article or post where someone purposefully uses a quote in a way it wasn’t intended. But unfortunately that is the world we live in today, you have to be aware.


  6. Thank you all for commenting. I think it’s scary when news outlets misuse a quote on purpose to trick people too, and I too find myself working on wording tweets correctly for long periods of time.

    (and that’s just my youtube account name so it can’t be traced back to me. Gotta protect your privacy 🙂 )


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