Grading Girl shares this message during the first week of my speech classes:
Meanings are in the message senders – NOT in the messages themselves!!
If meaning were in the words, then knowing word definitions would eliminate all misunderstandings! There would be no room for argument if we only held denotations, or dictionary definitions, to words. The reality is, though, that each person has different experiences that cause associations to certain emotional meaning, or connotations, of words. In other words (no pun intended!), individuals assign meanings to words and intend them in a particular way.
The misunderstanding comes when the person receiving the message holds different attitudes or emotions to the very same words. Nonverbal language, then, helps convey the intended association. Facial expressions, gestures, and body movement can help reveal the true message when words fail us. So Grading Girl urges you to mind your messages!