Note: This article is a reprint of an essay published on June 24, 2005.
I recently had a chance to discuss the topic of Supreme Court nominations with a young woman who was studying for a career in law. Some of the terms we used included confirmation hearings, Senate committee, Federal Appeals Panel, separation of powers, checks and balances, and Chappaquiddick. In order to carry on our conversation, we both had to know what these terms meant. We also had to know that the other person knew what the terms meant. To complicate matters, these are not the sort of expressions that can be found in just any reference tool (try to find a dictionary that will give you the connotation of Chappaquiddick).
This conversation illustrates an important point: for communication to occur, both parties need to know more than definitions of words and rules of syntax. They must also share a certain amount of information, and share it in such an easy way that they may call upon it without having consciously to reference it. This shared information puts much of the color into their conversation. It provides the powerful images and the delicate nuances without which communication shades toward tedium and, eventually, incoherence.
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