"send the wrong message"

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 14 04:56:01 UTC 2011

"Mixed signals" should be even more fun. The OED gives essentially the
literal meaning, apparently oblivious to the fact that the latter two
quotes are anything but literal:

> mixed signals n. signals which (apparently) contradict each other (cf.
> mixed message n.).
> 1905 Washington Post 13 July 8/3 The play showed the lack of team work
> and mixed signals again.
> 1966 Eng. Jrnl. 55 913/2, I know more than one school teacher or
> English professor... who has finally rebelled at the delays, the mixed
> signals, the red tape that are often encountered before a proposal is
> finally approved.
> 2004 H. Kennedy Just Law (2005) viii. 181 For juries who believe...
> the woman [sc. a rape victim] may have given mixed signals by her own
> behaviour, the judge's direction is a let-out.

I first thought the "mixed message" entry, which is only a few lines
above "mixed signals", would offer a more robust alternative, but that
seems to be just as blasé as the other.

> mixed message n. a message which conveys contradictory or inconsistent
> information, often unintentionally; (in pl.) messages which
> (apparently) contradict each other (cf. mixed signals n.).
> 1883 Funny Folks 24 Nov. 371/1 It [sc. the electro-automatic
> evangelist] commenced to pour forth in the tones of a steam hooter,
> which penetrated to every corner of the tent, its somewhat mixed message.
> 1896 S. A. Underwood Automatic or Spirit Writing vi. 115 Mr. U. had
> been speaking of the frequent mixed messages, contradictions and
> occasional falsehoods in the earlier phases of his writing.
> 1975 L. A. Cove & R. S. Lourie in S. Arieti Amer. Handbk. Psychiatry
> (ed. 2) V. 776 Their [sc. a child's natural parents] intermittent
> appearances and mixed messages are probably the most potent barriers
> to the children's being able to‥resolve relationship conflicts.
> 2005 N.Y. Times (National ed.) 5 Oct. c12/1 Sales flagged and experts
> blamed the mixed message.

The 2004 quote under "mixed signals" reflects the predominant usage
today--including context. The 1966 one reflects the primary alternative.
No one sends /actual/ signals any more, except, perhaps, in theater...


PS: Either I've "learned" the meaning of blasé incorrectly, or OED is
missing the right one:

> a. Exhausted by enjoyment, weary and disgusted with it; used up.
> b. Bored or unimpressed through over-familiarity; insensitive,
> supercilious.

Or I am using b. in a novel way... I am betting on me misinterpreting
the mixed signals, but don't want to discount the other possibilities
either. ;-)

On 10/13/2011 6:45 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> For when you fail to "send a strong signal."  I.e., "impart an adverse
> suggestion or impression to."
> GB appears to have a legitimate ex. from 1969. At least the context
> implies that the Vietnam War is still going on.
> ProQuest yields nothing in the NYT until 1978.
> 1975 _Syracuse Post-Standard_ (June 19) 4 [NewspArch]: [South Korean
> dissidents] accordingly look with apprehension at American
> Congressmen, clergymen, civil libertarians, and liberals for fear they
> will send the wrong message to Pyongyang and Washington.
> All earlier exx. seem to refer to literal, concrete messages.
> It seems to me that there was a lot of TV commentary beginning about
> 1968 that antiwar demonstrations, bombing halts, etc., "will send the
> wrong message to Hanoi."  Of course, it might have been 1969. Or I
> could be crazy.
> JL

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