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Indirect Communication by a British General in India

 
 

 

 
 

In 1843, Sir Charles Napier, a British General campaigning in India, sent to London a message containing the single word "Peccavvi".

No doubt the majority of those through whom the message passed would not have had a clue what it meant.  The few who, though knowing no Latin, recognised it as a Latin word and looked it up in a Latin-English dictionary, would have thought that Napier was confessing to a misdemeanour for they would have found that its meaning was "I have sinned".  Many if not the majority of those, mostly public school and Oxbridge-educated, who knew Latin would have come to the same conclusion.  But a few who knew from whom the message came and in what circumstances, would have realised that there might be a mismatch between the literal message and its context and, considering alternative meanings, would have guessed that Sir Charles was signalling that he had conquered the Indian Province of Sindh.  A few more with a certain mind-set regarding the use of words would have wondered about alternatives to the literal meaning anyway.

 

Comments

The example due to Napier embodies several more features to be found in indirect communication. It worth noting that the coding of the message was not prearranged but spontaneous.  It was also  opportunistic and humorous.  It made use of - indeed its effectiveness was dependent upon - the commonality of culture and education between the sender and the ultimate receiver.

 

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