Negative space in language continued

When I first wrote about negative space in language I had only gone till the phonemic level and cited examples. I am now extending it to the next 2 logical levels in language.

At Concept level, the negative space is popularly called as “reading in between the lines”. I used to have a super boss  whose style to negate a strategy would take the following form.

We should definitely pursue <<strategy 1>> but we could do <<strategy 2>> also. 

Most direct reports who are familiar with the above statement always understood <<strategy 2>> is not supported and not to be pursued. But that meaning was not expressed at all, in my opinion it is an example of negative space at a concept level. Here is another example from The Iron Heel

I was in New York when I received the order to proceed immediately to Chicago. The man who gave me the order was one of the oligarchs, I could tell that by his speech, though I did not know his name nor see his face. His instructions were too clear for me to make a mistake. Plainly I read between the lines that our plot had been discovered, that we had been countermined. The explosion was ready for the flash of powder, and countless agents of the Iron Heel, including me, either on the ground or being sent there, were to supply that flash. I flatter myself that I maintained my composure under the keen eye of the oligarch, but my heart was beating madly. I could almost have shrieked and flown at his throat with my naked hands before his final, cold-blooded instructions were given.

Humor I believe is the next negative space level involving a group of concepts within a context. Humor/Joke has several varieties, I am interested only in a specific variety called the ridiculousness defined as  “a response to the perception of incongruity”, only the effect is laughter. Best definition for incongruity being “want of accordance/harmony”. In fact when incongruity humor is performed and someone does not get it, whatever explanation will not really help in bringing out laughter. Possibly filling the negative space with words does not help at all. You see it or you don’t, and no help will work. Here is an example joke in incongruity that is popular. Several types of incongruity occurs in this joke it happens to be logical, you can view an indepth analysis at  Humour and incongruity JOHN LIPPITT

Abraham Lincoln was a great Kentuckian. He was born in a log cabin, which he built with his own hands

 I think this line of thinking can be further extended to cover deeper aspects of language.


Negative Space in Language

Negative spaces have always intrigued me, I encountered them first in my PwC days with that classic vase-human face picture, that was even part of our brand imagery for quite some time. More recently reading Betty Edwards and the FedEx logo (note the forward arrow between E and x).

From a visual expression perspective it makes absolute sense to experience the gap and space. But is it true for language as well.

I have 2 illustrations here, first one from our office vending machine named Starvend, there was a negative space that made me read it as “Starve end” instead of the usual “Star Vend”. I perceived the extra “e” and the space.

My usual brand of cigarettes has a tag line “Honeydew Smooth” which when read with the negative spaces sounds exactly like “I need you smooth”. I heard the whole, with the negative space to mean a completely different phrase than what was written.

Can negative spaces be phonemic and not just visual? Can it also be extended to the next natural level of “a concept”? If that were true is this a reason why some people are more comfortable listening to incomplete ideas? Is this perception the reason why some people like poetry of TS Eliot or Sylvia Plath more than others? Can we design this negative space for better perception? Just asking