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Words and Confusion in Teaching and Calling

Installment 1, sound-alikes

by Jim Saxe

(This article was originally posted to the Usenet newsgroup <rec.folk-dancing>.)

On April 26, I wrote: "I'm looking for examples of ill-chosen words and phrases used in calling or teaching contradances and/or ("traditional") square dances. I'm particularly interested in words that can lead to choreographic confusion because they sound like something else, because they have more than one plausible interpretation, or for some other reason."

Below is the beginning of a summary of the examples given in the responses I've received, together with examples I've accumulated from my own dancing and calling experience. But first some comments and caveats.

The examples given below and in the later installments to follow should be read with a critical eye. Ideally, they would clearly illustrate direct connections between poorly chosen words on the part of callers and confusion on the part of dancers. In practice the words reported may not be what a caller actually said, but only what the caller remembers having said or what a dancer remembers having heard. Any confusion that was later observed may have been due to a variety of causes, which might or might not relate to the caller's choice of particular words.

For example, the caller may have chosen inappropriate material, failed to understand the dance thoroughly before presenting it, failed to verify that all dancers were correctly positioned after each figure in the walk-through, or failed to maintain the dancers' attention. Or other words that the caller said earlier than the ones reported might have sowed the seeds of confusion. Or the words in the example might be words that some caller avoids (or that somebody thinks callers should avoid) for fear that they *might* cause confusion.

The same words that are effective with one group of dancers may be ineffective with another group. Alternative "better" wordings suggested in some of the examples may not actually be more effective in a given situation than the original "bad" wordings. Contorting your teaching in order to avoid the words used in a "bad" example - or in order to set the context for some clever bit of "good" phrasing - may do more harm than good. In short, these examples and any associated commentary are no substitute for your good judgment.

I've made some attempt to group the examples into categories _ sound-alikes (covered in this message), ambiguities, timing problems, etc. - but many of the examples could equally well fit into two or more categories. In such cases I've made somewhat arbitrary decisions, being more concerned with writing the examples down that with devising an ideal system of classification,

My thinking about words to use in teaching and calling dances has benefited (I hope) from interactions with many dancers, musicians, and callers over the years, and I won't even attempt to list them all. Of course none of the above-mentioned individuals necessarily subscribes the opinions expressed in what follows. In fact, I'm not so sure about some of those opinions myself. But enough preamble. On to the examples.

Here are some examples involving sound-alike words--words that sound similar to other words because they share a syllable or even a vowel sound. Note that not all these examples necessarily involve ill-chosen words. In some cases the potential problems might be avoided by more careful enunciation or more careful teaching rather than by a different choice of words.

A caller's use of a particular word may have the unfortunate effect of suggesting a different usage of the same word. Here are some examples that I subjectively chose to categorize as sound-alike phrases, rather than in some other category. If the hall is noisy, the acoustics are poor, and/or the sound system is poorly adjusted, or the callers' enunciation and mic technique are poor, it's easy for some words to become completely lost (i.e., be sound-alikes for nothing). This can be particularly troublesome with words like "not" and "don't": While I'm on the subject of sound-alikes, here are some examples of words that may not cause any actual confusion, but that suggest stale puns.

Thanks to all the people who've help me compile the examples in this message and in the messages to follow, either by their responses to my queries on rec.folk-dancing or through recent private conversations. These include: Bob Archer, Jenny Beer, Bo Bradham, Roger Broseus, Ron Buchanan, Harold Cheyney, Brent Chivers, Charlie Fenton, Jim Fownes, Michael Fuerst, Anne Hillman, Donna Howell, Larry Jennings, Jon Leech, Alan Gedance, Jonathan Griffiths, Jackie Hoffman, Paul Marsh, Greg McKenzie, David Millstone, Russell Owen, Obejoyful, Ted Swift, Tony Parkes, Dan Pearl, Ted Swift, Kiran Wagle, and perhaps others whose names I've inadvertently omitted.

Stay tuned for Installment 2.

Jim Saxe <saxe@src.dec.com>

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Last updated on July 27, 1996 by entropy@prismnet.com (Kiran Wagle)