The Korea Herald


[Kim Seong-kon] Men’s language vs. women’s meaning

By 최남현

Published : April 5, 2011 - 18:40

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Linguists assert that men and women talk differently and, as a result, run into communication problems. Their assertion may be true to some degree, but they are not always right. For example, some linguists contend that women are more garrulous than men. That is not true. For example, men tend to talk vociferously while conversing over drinks at a bar, and are usually more talkative than women when discussing controversial issues on panels and television shows. Other scholars maintain that women tend to gossip while men do not, which is certainly untrue. When men go out together, they also gossip endlessly about political or personal scandals until they run out of things to say. This is especially true for average Korean men. 

Do men and women, then, speak the same language and communicate fluently? Not quite so. It is undeniable that there are subtle, innate differences between men and women’s communication skills. For example, women are capable of conversing while doing a variety of tasks, such as household chores. Multitasking is a God-given gift most women tend to possess. Mothers can engage in a serious conversation while changing their baby’s diaper or feeding a young one. Most men, not knowing a woman’s unique ability to multitask, feel ignored and neglected when they find their female counterpart engaging in other activities while listening. For example, I frequently feel frustrated when talking to my wife at home, for she tends to be simultaneously doing her hair or washing the dishes during our conversation. For a man used to receiving the full attention of his students at work, it is quite unbearable to be completely ignored by his better half at home. Amazingly, however, my wife can hear and think about what I said, and even respond coherently while engaging in other activities. So I am just grateful that she doesn’t start the vacuum cleaner while I am talking.

Experts also point out that women like to discuss personal feelings and problems, whereas men enjoy shoptalk or anecdotes about their successful achievements. This is why Korean men love to brag about their military experiences and Korean women detest hearing them. In addition, many men prefer to talk about politics and sports, while many women love to talk about personal relationships and news about their acquaintances. There is a widespread belief that men are inclined to dominate the topics of a talk, while women try to create social cohesion through conversation.

Sometimes, men do not understand the female language and end up in big trouble. When your wife asks, “I got a stiff shoulder. Will you massage it?” she usually means, “Massage only, no kinky stuff,” while men may interpret the message differently. The Internet is full of humorous “survival” tips for husbands. For example, one website says that when your wife asks, “Do you love me?” it usually means, “I am going to ask for something expensive.” When she asks, “How much do you love me?” she is likely to mean, “I did something today that you’re not going to like.” Again, if she tells you, “The kitchen is a little inconvenient,” she means to say, “I want to move to a new house.”

When a man goes out for a date, he should be even more careful. When your date complains, “Are you listening to me?” a website warns that she really means, “Too late, you’re dead!” When your girlfriend complains, “You have to learn to communicate,” she means, “Just agree with me, you moron.” And when your date retorts, “Do whatever you want,” it could mean, “You’ll pay for this later.” If she sighs loudly, she wants to say, “Idiot!” If she answers, “Nothing,” when you ask, “What’s wrong?” she likely means, “Everything.” Obviously these are funny “translations” that may not be true depending on the situation. However, they illustrate the fact that sometimes you should not take people too literally. They may say one thing, but really mean another. And a good spouse or partner must learn to decipher and understand their counterpart.

According to Pamela Fishman, women tend to ask more questions than men during a conversation. This may reflect the fact that women are more inquisitive and curious than men, who are generally more pretentious and conceited. Scholars also maintain that men tend to change subjects frequently, while women can discuss one topic for more than half an hour. Research also reveals that women have better communication skills than men because the part of the brain that controls verbal communication is far more agile and versatile in the average female.

Some men mistakenly think that women’s “No!” means “Yes!” because women are supposedly shy and paradoxical. Such simplistic interpretation is mistaken and can lead to huge mistakes. Furthermore, men who think along such lines not only gravely misunderstand women’s psychology, but also seriously diminish women. Guys should especially remember that when a woman says, “No,” she means, “No.” In order to promote better communication among the two sexes, both men and women should strive to understand each other’s languages. 

By Kim Seong-kon

Kim Seong-kon, a professor of English at Seoul National University, is editor of the literary quarterly “21st Century Literature.” ― Ed.