Virtual, verbal, both, or none?

Virtual, verbal, both, or none?

When you send a message by computer, is it a virtual message? Or is it a real one?

Virtual is coming to mean almost exclusively “by computer” — but its original definition is apparently, but not in fact.

Meanwhile, if you send a message by computer, it is truly a message… so I’m not at ease completely with the use of “virtual” there.

But is your message verbal? In a format like this, it would be. But that’s another word in flux. Many people are muddling up the original definition, made of words, with the meaning of oral, by mouth.

(Confused? Take these essays on words as your verbal medicine, but don’t take them orally. They’re only virtual medicine.)

A non-verbal message would be a gesture — such as a smile — or some typed version, such as the punctuated šŸ™‚ or the emoji for a smile. The trouble that each of those two nearby examples is a virtual smile — not the real thing, the gesture that makes a special person’s face even more special.

Other non-verbal messages are numerical ones: 1, 2, 3. Even those areĀ virtual representations of how many items one talks about.

In this case, I’m not being what’s called a “prescriptive” linguist — I’m not writing ahead about how the words should be used. I’m just noting some distinctions and observing how the words are beginning to collide. That’s being “descriptive.”

So some messages will be both verbal and virtual. Others will be neither. Let’s see whether we can keep both words — and both kinds of messages — around.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. Stop by for verbal fun!

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  • I once edited a professor's work. He insisted that "verbal" contracts be changed to "oral" contracts (I suppose for the reason you stated). He also didn't like split infinitives.

    Virtual in the computer world seems more appropriate to "virtual reality." What really ticks me off is "literally" vs. "virtually," when literally is used for actually.

  • In reply to jack:

    You seem on target here, Jack. This is a verbal exchange between us, for example. I think "virtual reality" got taken to mean "computer reality," and the trouble began.

  • Margaret, I agree with you that "verbal" refers to use of words in general, not just oral communication. Your blog is a verbal communication as surely as anyone talking to me. Coming over the internet does not make it any less so.

    Having said this, there are inconsistencies. In the law, "verbal contract" is the term often used for what correctly should be called oral contracts. The U.S. Supreme Court is even guilty of this, although it has more commonly used what we would argue the correct term.

    As you have said in the past, we can only struggle for proper usage of words. We cannot decree it.

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Nite my comment above, although I suppose the courts used verbal before the professor changed it.

  • In reply to jack:

    Nite? Now I'm the one who needs a usage lesson! Last time I saw that, I admit, was on the TV channel "Nick at Nite."

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Just an artifact of this software not having a preview pane or an edit button, although I am becoming more incoherent lately. Fortunately, in editing the professor's work, Microsoft Word does allow editing, and the publisher supposedly has copy editors (although seeing some things published lately, I tend to doubt it).

    It was supposed to be "note."

  • In reply to jnorto:

    Thank you for the kind words, and especially for remembering mine.

  • A word etymologically related to verbal is 'verbigeration' My dictionary defines it thusly: "continual repetition of stereotyped phrases (as in some forms of mental illness)"

    Perhaps, an example of it would be Trump's signature reiteration of "Make America Great Again" or "Obamacare is a disaster" or a legion of other expressions.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Wow, thanks for a great word! I checked my own dictionary; it didn't mention mental illness, but then again, it doesn't mention Richard Nixon on the page about presidents.
    The next word after "verbigeration" in my dictionary, appropriately, is "verbose."

  • As we live in a society that still confuses "prostrate" with "prostate," I wish much good luck to "virtual" and "verbal!"

  • In reply to Michelle Babicz:

    I made a crack to I think was a rabbi in that context. When discussing whether to prostrate oneself at a certain potion of the service, I said that was between him and his urologist.

  • In reply to Michelle Babicz:

    Thanks, Michelle. That's a good point!

  • I love spirited discussions about words and language. Your post and your readers give me much to ponder!

  • In reply to Kathy Mathews:

    Thanks, Kathy. I'm glad you join in our spirited discussions! (And thanks, everybody, for keeping the discussion going when I'm not here!)

  • I love this post! I, too, had "verbal" and "oral" as synonyms so thank you for clarifying that. Still scratching my head with regard to "virtual," but I'll get over my resistance in time, I suppose. Michelle Babicz's comment reminds me of people confusing "fathom" with "phantom"!

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