One further illustration may make this clearer. Let us suppose that we are on the roadside struggling with a flat tire. A friendly youth comes up and asks, "Got a flat tire?" If we insist upon interpreting his words literally, we will regard this as an extremely silly question and our answer may be, "Can't you see I have, you dumb ox?" If we pay no attention to what the words say, however, and understand his meaning, we will return his gesture of friendly interest by showing equal friendliness, and in a short while he may be helping us to change the tire. In a similar way, many situations in life as well as literature demand that we pay no attention to what the words say, since the meaning may often be a great deal more intelligent and intelligible than the surface sense of the words themselves.
The example of the flat tire appeared in the 1941 version of this book, Language in Action. It was commented on and elaborated by Dr. Karl Menninger in Love Against Hate (1942), in which he offered the following translation of "Got a flat tire?" in terms of its psychological meaning: "Hello-I see that you are in trouble. I'm a stranger to you, but I might be your friend now that I have the chance to be if I had any assurance that my friendship to you would be welcomed. Are you approachable? Are you a decent fellow? Would you appreciate it if I helped you? I would like to do so, but I don't want to be rebuffed. This is what my voice sounds like. What does your voice sound like?" Why does not the youth simply say directly, "I would be glad to help you"? Menninger explains: "But people are too timid and mutually distrustful to be so direct. They want to hear one another's voices. People need reassurance that others are just like themselves. ~ Language In Thought And Action by S.I. Hayakawa
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