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True or falsitude: Subtle Language Exercise
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 02/15/2016

Truthpathcompass



The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.



The substitution of a word can change the meaning and the veracity of the statement. Consider the following statements:

“You could be a rock star!”
“You will be a rock star!”

In a true or false test, the first statement is true, as (almost) anything is possible with a conditional word. The second statement does not use any qualification and cannot be as true as the flexible “could” statement. Unless you are unmistakably prescient, how can you know that the person will attain rock star status?

In many professions, what you say and what you do not say can be held against you. Corrections and criminal justice occupations are good examples of this. It behooves practitioners to know the difference between mandatory words like ‘shall’, ‘will’ and ‘must’ versus the less definitive ‘should’, ‘could’ and ‘would’.

A ‘should’ issued versus a ‘shall’ could mean the difference between a simple verbal warning and prosecution. In a prison setting, this is a crucial element to maintain safety and discipline. If a prisoner is threatening you, the order that you issue is crucial. There really is a difference between these two statements:

Go to your cell now.
You should go to your cell now.

The former is a direct order and the latter is a suggestion. An inmate could argue, perhaps successfully, that staff used ‘should’ and that it was not really meant as an order but as a choice or a suggestion. This may not seem like a big deal to those who do not work in corrections. However, there exists a difference that could undermine staff authority and the validity of an order. To drive this lesson home, I crated two true or false tests. One consists of completely mandatory words and the other has less definitive words. Students are given these tests one at a time. They shall be instructed that if a statement is not totally true, then it should be marked as false.

Test 1
  1. All men eat meat and nothing else.
  2. You will outlive your grandfather.
  3. Bigfoot is real.
  4. China will win a land battle with Russia in the next twenty years.
  5. This test will be fun for everyone.
  6. Everyone thinks that Paul Bunyan was responsible for deforesting the upper Midwest in the 19th century.
  7. As a party spot, Daytona Beach is definitely better than Virginia Beach.
  8. All Chevrolets are better vehicles than Fords.
  9. Criminals are always caught in the end.
  10. The pug is universally considered the most stubborn animal in existence.
All of these are false because they are not necessarily true.

Then, students put aside test 1 as the facilitator distributes test 2. Test 2 is very similar to test 1, but with a few differences.

Test 2
  1. Some men eat meat and nothing else.
  2. You may outlive your grandfather.
  3. Bigfoot may be real.
  4. China could win a land battle with Russia in the next twenty years.
  5. This test may be fun for everyone.
  6. Some people think that Paul Bunyan was responsible for deforesting the upper Midwest in the 19th century.
  7. As a party spot, Daytona Beach is often considered better than Virginia Beach.
  8. Many Chevrolets are better vehicles than Fords.
  9. Criminals are often caught in the end.
  10. The pug is thought by some the most stubborn animal in existence.
All of the statements in Test 2 can be considered true because there is are qualifying, flexible words in the statement.

They should notice (but not necessarily shall notice) that all answers are the same in each test. The test with shall, will, must is completely false. All of the statements in Test 2 can be considered true because there are qualifying, flexible words in the statement.

Students are asked the primary differences between the tests. Then words that are definitive in test one shall be circled by participants. Students will then circle the flexible language elements in the statements in test 2.

The point is not the patterns of true or false. The idea is to note the subtleties of language. Law enforcement and corrections staff learn the importance of these subtleties through experience. Perhaps their effectiveness in this is strengthened through this exercise.

In any event, it should promote discussion.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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