Black guys make up over 50% of the prison population in the United States.
What do I mean by that? Am I making a racist implication that blacks are more likely to commit crime? Or am I implying the opposite, that blacks are unfairly treated by the justice system?
The answer is neither. I only mean to communicate a raw fact and nothing more. However, I'm willing to bet that most people who read it are going to interpret in one of those two ways, at least to some degree, and then make a moral judgement about me.
This is a pervasive problem with communication on the Web, especially on Twitter. Sometimes, you want to draw attention to a fact, but the fact is so suggestive of an implied meaning that it's impossible to state without offending someone.
It would be nice if there were a way to make a statement that's explicitly devoid of implicit meaning. To do it currently, you have to write it in dry, sparse, padded language, or worse, append a lengthly guide for interpreting your words. On the Web, and especially on Twitter, there just isn't time or room to do that.
Here's my proposal. If a sentence ends with a '‗' (U-2017, "DOUBLE LOW LINE") instead of a normal period, the reader should make an effort to strip as much implicit meaning from it as possible.
Here are some examples:
Example #1: "I'm really not sure if it will ever be possible to build a quantum computer."
What it means: I think quantum computers probably can't be built.
Example #2: "I'm really not sure if it will ever be possible to build a quantum computer‗"
What it means: The author of the sentence has insufficient information to decide whether quantum computers are physically realizable and is not making any statement about one outcome being more likely than the other.
Example #3: "Over 50% of the prison population is black‗ This seems strange to me, and I think its cause should be investigated."
What it means: The first statement is literal, without implication. But for the second sentence, the reader is still free to read "seems strange to me" as implying the author thinks the fact is a symptom of something negative.
Example #4: "Over 50% of the prison population is black‗ This seems strange to me, and I think its cause should be investigated‗"
What it means: Now the second sentence must be taken literally. It means that the author considers the fact to be surprising for some unknown reason, and that the author thinks it should be investigated for yet another unknown reason. No information about the two unknown reasons is implicit in the sentence.
By using '‗', we can state technicalities without making accidental implications. Once we're able to do that, it will be easier to have discussions around complicated emotionally-charged issues.
But '‗' doesn't solve all problems. Sometimes it's necessary to take advantage of implicit meaning to get an argument across in a short amount of space. For example, try to figure out which argument Richard Dawkins is trying to make in this heavily-implicit tweet:
"But he's only a kid." Yes, a "kid" old enough to sue for $15M those whom he hoaxed. And how old is this "kid"? https://t.co/kjzxGDs5Az— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) November 24, 2015
The argument he's making, by way of counterexample, is that being young doesn't free you from moral responsibility. But most people interpreted it as a comparison between the relatively-innocent clock builder and the ISIS member. Perahps we need another symbol, like '⚠' that means "Danger here! I have a specific implicit meaning in mind, and you're likely to pick the wrong one!" Then, Richard could have written, "'But he's only a kid.' ... What about this kid?⚠" Then, when accused of making the comparison, he can say, "That's what the '⚠' is for." and take the opportunity to clarify what he means.
If English sucks and pushes us apart, lets hack the language to make it work for us.