When I was growing up, my father had a certain whistle he used to get our attention. It was like a special code that would cut through a crowd, something easily identifiable that we knew was meant for us, not for all the other strangers in the crowd. It was unique. It was proprietary. It was personal. I looked forward to teaching my own kids that secret signal someday.
My father used this signal at my wedding reception. Sure enough, it cut straight through the crowd directly to my brain, even though I was surrounded by well wishers and had hardly been able to take a sip of my drink much less sit down. My father was teaching it to my husband. A useful tool, passed from one generation to the next.
My husband hated it. To him, it was demeaning. Like calling a dog. I’d never thought of it that way, but I quietly let it go.
Over the almost eighteen years we’ve been married, I’ve missed it. There were times I saw my husband at the opposite end of a grocery store aisle, obviously looking for me but unable to see me because I’m not very tall. If I’d whistled, he would have been able to pick me out from the crowd. But I didn’t, because he feels it is demeaning. Now, as a denture wearer, the point is moot because I can’t whistle well anymore anyway.
It’s a sensitive maneuver, figuring out what little mannerisms or words might mean to certain people. I posted earlier about the word twatwaffle, and how it might be compared to the rather mild insult “twit” or something far more vulgar. I’m a firm believer than if you’re in a situation where someone might be offended by the term, the polite and considerate thing to do it to not use it.
Sometimes people take the concept of What This Means to You too far. I’ve seen far too many religious arguments where one person says “You’re a ____, so that means you believe ____!” This is often twisted into the most condescending, insulting argument people can muster. For example, “You’re a Christian. You must believe in a magic baby who turns into a zombie!” The speaker knows this is a terribly inaccurate interpretation of Christian beliefs. They’re saying that specifically because their intention is to be insulting.
While writing, it’s not enough to tell about what happens to my characters. I have to show what those events and those conversations mean. An idle comment to one might be a hot button to another. A tiny moment can have great and intense meaning.
And that’s not easy.