Introduction: The Power of Simple Words
“l’ll be back.”
The most memorable Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes are basic, blunt, and primal.
His catchphrases will make an nine-year-old and an 99-year-old giggle. This level of simplicity and communication is something we have heard over and over from another character, this time not a fictional one: Donald Trump.
The Donald is happy. Very happy. Something is good. Great, really great. A study shows that Donald speaks like a 10-year-old. None of his opponents uses such simple language.
The Terminator’s Transformation: Basic to Complex
“I’ll be back” is a great way to get attention. But if Terminator wants to develop into a 360° character, he or it needs to also develop after taking bullets and not dying. In dialogue with the future leader of the insurgence, John Connor, the Terminator says, “I’m a cybernetic organism, living tissue over metal endoskeleton.” Now, this is something Trump would never say. It’s complex, and uses a mix of specialized terminologies pertaining to different realms of life.
The Significance of Articulation Levels
Why and how do we go from “I’ll be back! Get down! Follow me!” to “cybernetic organism?”
The Terminator is using different levels of articulation. This theory, from a yet-to-be-published philosophical treaty by Blake La Grange, tells us that we can say the same thing at different degrees of complexity. For instance:
- Five: “I’m a cybernetic organism, living tissue over metal endoskeleton.”
- Four: “I’m a cybernetic robot mimicking a human.”
- Three: “I’m an android.”
- Two: “I’m a machine underneath, but sort of alive outside.”
- One: “I’m not human.”
La Grange adds to this that levels 1 to 2 allow us to speak to anyone. Levels 3 to 5 instead reach an ever smaller audience of experts. At level 5 you’re basically talking to yourself only.
Tullio De Mauro, the famous linguist, would have termed these articulation levels as linguistic codes. As an erudite, I’ve always admired how he always looked for the simplest, most comprehensible word to express any concept. And he would know literally every word, as he had curated one of the best dictionaries of the Italian language. The man with an infinite vocabulary never used fancy words.
Hey articulation, meet storytelling!
Now that you know the theory, let’s go from “I’ll be back” to “cybernetic organism” in the movie. To do so, we need to meet the characters in medias res, during the action. Jim Cameron, the director, knows very well that Terminator can’t be introduced by telling a boring backstory. We need to start with the action.
After the action opening, the movie needs to set the stakes, explain what happens, and get the audience invested. Moving from different levels of articulation is done by progressing the story.
Without storytelling, Terminator kills, protects, and says funny punch lines like “Hasta la vista, baby.”
With storytelling, the world is in danger. Skynet is about to destroy everything. The stakes are high.
Without a story, we’re always at the gory level of bullets, blood, and shouting: “Get down! Get out! There’s a bomb in there!”
A story takes us to a shelter and allows us to develop our characters at different levels. They can still say “I’ll be back,” but we know they mean more than that.
Mastering Articulation: Practical Strategies for Effective Communication
Let’s come to why it matters. You’re probably stuck at a certain level of articulation, and I know for a fact that, at work, you’re often talking complicated.
You want to show everybody that you’re the expert, that you have what it takes, so you use long, sophisticated, complicated words—the words that the linguist with an infinite vocabulary would never use.
There is a moment to talk about endoskeletons, and there is a moment to say “hasta la vista.” I’m guilty of this too. If you go on LinkedIn, you can see how basically everybody there is guilty of this.
How do we get out of this?
Every time you say something, get into the habit of saying it using more complex words and then try to say it easier. Try to get to the borders of how complicated you can make it. And then try to simplify to the max.
What you will see is that the easier you go, the more the thing you say could be something people shout on the street, like “Hey, you dropped your wallet.” Not, “beware of your belongings, as they have been misplaced.”
I have a free training where I introduce you to my process to find your own personal communication style. I would love for you to watch it.