say what you mean, mean what you say…

That’s a pretty simple and straightforward kind of thing to say, isn’t it?  I mean, it … says … what it means…   and if we follow the concept, life would be so much easier for all of us…  No more lying politicians or smarmy sales-pitches…  No more “hey, this product was supposed to do this, but it doesn’t” kind of problems.  No more hurt feelings because you answer “does this (dress, shirt, tie, bathing suit, whatever) make me look (old, fat, ugly, whatever)” kind of questions truly – yes, your butt looks like a Buick in that silver sequin thing.  Sorry – a digression.

But you get My meaning, right?  I mean it would be so much easier if we said what we mean and meant what we said and we weren’t mean about it, either.

For example – I’ve been away from the office for about a week, helping My mom – My dear, 73 year old mom – move.  She semi-retired from being a programmer/analyst last year.  I say semi-retired because now she works for the same company – but as a consultant instead of as a salaried employee.  But she also works remotely, with a nice little wifi/broadband modem card stuck out of the side of her laptop.  We’re moving her from Las Vegas, Nevada to the Palm Springs, California area (Rancho Mirage, to be exact).  Now, My mom is a bit of a … collector … OK, pack rat.  Anyway, she’s got about 1800 square foot of furniture – plus 2 car garage, back yard and closet storage of stuff – to move into another 1800 square foot property, but on a smaller lot and partially furnished…  UGH.  I’m also the youngest of 5 kids.  The point?  You’ll see in a second.

My oldest brother also offered to help with the move.  But in the weeks leading up to the actual move, his level of involvement seemed to shift and change and morph from his original “I’ll help you move” to “I’ll come down for a few days and help unload” to…  And of course, he griped and whined and complained and yakked about how much stuff mom has and how she needs to get rid of stuff and blah, blah, blah.

The point is that he didn’t say what he meant and didn’t mean what he said – “I’ll help you move” – and he was mean about what he said, too – “oh, what is all this … stuff?!?”. 

In another yahoo! group I belong to – one related to HTML and website topics – a post appeared about a ‘free giveaway’ of software that was only good for a day.  And the poster was then called a spammer and a hack and told how worthless the post was, blah, blah, blah.  And the poster got a little … miffed … over the responses he received.  But the problem, you see, is that he then bristled – got more miffed – and ranted on how people should just ignore it if they didn’t want it and shouldn’t slam him for posting and all of that…

On another website, I was chatting with a friend and we veered into how often times humor and sarcasm and irony are lost in the written word and how – many times – in a face to face conversation, we can use expressions and voice tones and gestures to imply a meaning – adding a smile or a chuckle to show that something is funny or having a wide-eyed look of fear to imply that meaning of being scared or rolling your eyes to show annoyance or bother or how tired of all of it you are.

Luckily, in EDI, we have a set of standards or a governing body (whether X12, ANSI, VICS, UCC, Tradacom, and more) that tells us what we can say and how we are to say it and what it all means.  We have a document and a set of hierarchy levels and segments and elements and sub-elements that allow us to say “I’m ABC Inc., and I’m ordering from you, XYZ Company, this widget A-12 in size small and in color blue and I want them all to ship to this address and will pay you this money”.  Or whatever information we’re trying to convey.  The meaning and the “tone” of the document is all there – in neat black and white (or rainbow colors if you’re using a color printer).  It’s giving us the “Ws” of the world – the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN and WHY.  It gives us all the information and the data we need to do what we need to do.

In the written word – we don’t have those standards.  And we don’t have the help of the voice tone, facial expressions and other “standards” that we can use to decipher the words and – yes – the data being conveyed.

The written word is … flat …  There are no real peaks and valleys.  It’s a monotone.  It’s the same level all over.  It takes a talented writer – and there are many of them out there – to convey a feeling via the written word.  Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Anne Rice – all are masterful at conveying fear and horror in their written word.  Barbara Taylor Bradford, Sydney Sheldon, Jackie Collins – they were all good at conveying lust and longing in their romance novels and steamy stories.  But it is still up to us – as readers – to decipher what they’re trying to say and what information they’re trying to impart and what they’re meaning with those words.

And again, we have EDI standards to tell us what that information means.  We don’t have to decipher what it means, because we have a guide – those standards – to tell us what each piece of information – what each bit and byte of data – means.  The document, through translation, says what it means and means what it says.

Imagine how much simpler one of the most well known bits of data in the world – used by thousands and millions of people around the world – The Bible – just imagine how much easier it would be to comprehend it if there was some kind of standard or guide telling us what it all meant.  We’d know exactly what it meant when it says “Love thy neighbor” or “honor thy father and mother” or whatever.  We’d know – without any doubt – what it was all about, Alfie.

Think about how many times that book has been translated over the centuries – from Aramaic to Greek to Latin to German to French to English to … And each time it’s translated, it COULD change a bit.  Think about how in English alone there are three words that all sound the same and have vastly different meanings and spellings – they’re – there – their.  Or wear – where – were (as in wolf).  I can say any one of those words – and without some kind of guidance – or a translation – a standard, if you will – you don’t know what I mean.  Without some inflection or tone of voice, what do I mean to say..?

Those very standards that can be so difficult to understand and implement – and have, let’s face it, a wide degree of variation – still simplify the entire process for us and for EDI and all that we do.  It doesn’t limit us to a single way of thinking and a single line of thought, but it does allow us to say what we mean and mean what we say with a very moderate amount of confusion down the line.

Author: Craig Dunham – EDI Coordinator
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