a lesson from Susie and Elmer

A funny thing happened right before Christmas, and I may have written about it but I can’t remember and am too lazy to go back and find out. SO…

Daughter came into the room one morning and said “You know that joke about ‘I just flew in from New Jersey and boy, are my arms tired’? I just got that. Took me 14 years!” She’d seen a commercial for a talking Elmo that cracks that joke.

Yesterday I watched the last few minutes of “Citizen Kane”. I’ve seen this movie before, more than once. The reporter is talking to Susie at the bar. They’ve been talking about Kane for hours when Susie looks out the window and says “Well, whaddya’ know! Morning already.” I heard that yesterday and something clicked in my head, and my brain said “Where else have I heard that?” Answer: a very old Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon, Wabbit Twouble.  Bugs is messing w/ Elmer’s camping trip, tricks him into thinking it’s nighttime and then tricks him again to make him think he’s slept all night, all in a few seconds. Elmer ‘gets up’ and says “Well, whaddya’ know! Morning already. My, how time fwies!”

There’s a lot going on here.

One one level, it’s about how we communicate. We all use reference points in communicating w/ each other, and we assume that the other person is familiar with the particular reference. Here’s an example: When hubby and I were first married, we both worked in a Western Electric factory, same shift, different areas. He worked on large transformers. I worked on tiny relay switches. My area was right next to the restrooms. One of the girls in my area was dating a guy that worked somewhere else in the plant, and every time he’d walk by heading to the restroom, she’d yell (it was a loud factory), “WOOP! WOOP!” at him, kind of sing-songy and high pitched. I heard this several times a day and it was really annoying, and Hubby heard it a few times himself. Annoying or not, it sort of became part of our lexicon, and to this day we do this. Sunday I was on the deck studying Chemistry (and wondering why on earth I thought taking this class was a good idea, but I digress) and hubby had gone to the grocery store. I heard him come in the house and knew he’d be looking for me, so I yelled “WOOP! WOOP!”. What I really said was, “Hey, I know you’re home. I’m on the deck, I’ll be right in.” But, “woop, woop” communicated the same thing a lot quicker. The next-door neighbor was out in his driveway shooting basketball. He probably heard me yell and wondered what species of moron had moved in next door.

He doesn’t know the reference point.

And so I wonder: How many times have I miscommunicated something to someone because I assumed he or she knew a particular reference, only they didn’t? Or even worse, what if they’re interpretation of that reference was something totally different from mine, and so we both thought we were saying something, but the other person was saying something totally different, and both of us thought we understood what was being said, but neither of us really did?

All this complexity from a line from a movie and a cartoon.

And real communication is exponentially more difficult…


Oh, the other thing about what Elmer says, “My how time fwies!”

It’s true.


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