Monday, August 17, 2015

Imply versus Infer Through the Lens of Toby Keith

Some Grammar Dance entries have a low aspiration indeed—no big picture, no analysis of a trend, no solution to an age-old conundrum. Our ankle-high bar today seeks simply to clarify the difference between infer and imply. It’s an easy one to get wrong, but a bad one to get wrong as well, as it can unwittingly tumble  out of your mouth and you might not even recognize you’ve been pejoratively judged in a conversation.

In the case of the Berlin Wall, people tended only to jump over from one direction. The same is true of imply and infer; when people use the word infer, many make the mistake of thinking it means the same thing as imply, though rarely will someone say the word imply and think that it means infer

Think of it in terms of an internal versus an external action. Suppose you hear someone say, “I went to the Toby Keith concert. Unfortunately.” He is implying that the concert was bad. It is a rhetorical vehicle that has been used to make you think something without directly stating it. 

What you may infer from hearing someone say, “I went to the Toby Keith concert, unfortunately,” is that the person has dreary taste in music. Even though the intention on the part of the speaker was not to telegraph a preference for the worst that country music has to offer, the listener gleaned that through her own powers of deduction.

In order to imply, one must say something with an intended but not expressly stated alternate or additional meaning. When something is inferred, it is an opinion arrived at within the mind of a single individual based on empirical evidence and that person’s intuition. They differ pretty wildly, and it’s important to use them correctly.