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For me it is a starting point in all thought about language that, whatever I say or do with words, my expression will never mean exactly the same thing to you that it does to me; and of course yours will never mean exactly the same thing to me that it does to you. It cannot: each act of expression is a gesture against a context; it derives its meaning largely. perhaps entirely, from its relation to that context; and for each of us the context of every gesture is different, if only because one of us is doing it, the other observing. Think of the tennis game, and how differently the same shot is experienced by you and by me. From your point of view, having made the play, the ball disappears across the net into the larger scene from which it is about to be returned; for me, the ball emerges from such a scene to become increasingly the object of focus and potential action. For you the shot is something done; for me it constitutes a challenge: Can I respond?

This is to focus on the difference between the sender and the receiver, between the person who writes words in her study, on a pad, then sees them printed and sent forth into the world to merge with all the other books and articles out there, and the other person, who finds this book or article among the others, idly glances at it, or chooses to read it with care, and thus locates it within the world of the other texts that he has known. This is one difference, but not the only one, for our sense of context and action is different in many other ways as well: our sense of the words themselves is different, for they have different histories for each of us; our sense of the way words are related by syntax varies too, since, as any language teacher knows, we inhabit different syntactical worlds; and our experience of the natural world, of other people, of institutions, of other gestures on other occasions-all of which provide parts of the context against which the particular performance occurs- vary too. My meaning can never be your meaning; all writing is a way of addressing, or avoiding, that fact. It is this theme that I wish to pursue in responding to the various articles written about my work, beginning with that by Eugene Garver.


This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis Group in Rhetoric Society Quartley in 1991. Available online; 06/02/2009