In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

Dealing Directly with People

What's missing in a world of impersonal text messaging, e-mails, and voice mail is face-to-face communication. It's not easy, however, to establish its face value — providing prima facie evidence of its worth.

No one said it's easy. To Wordsworth, "The face of everyone that passes me by is a mystery." To Shakespeare, "Your face... is as a book, where men may read strange matters" (Macbeth I., iii). It's also pretty difficult — keeping a straight face. Better to hide behind 140 characters.

Each morning we wake to face the shiny image in our mirror. Its roots are in the Latin facies, "appearance" or "visage" from facem, "torch." From it we got the French facette, "little face," and the English facet. The word first referred to diamonds, then other substances, before going figurative in 1820. Thanks to all the above, we were able to develop our multi-faceted personalities.

Being face to face puts us in the presence of others, in direct communication with them. It's not without risk however. Getting in their face (c.1930) can annoy or pester them. Misunderstandings, you see, are part of the package. You can go face to face with them, facing them down. You also have the option to face up to your role in the scheme of things. That would also make it a form of fessing up, something we just have to "confess."

Your face is the most prominent feature of your outward appearance, publically registering humiliation, broadcasting to others what you feel. A slap in the face can cause you to lose face (late 19th C.), a translation of the Chinese tiu lien, "to lose one's dignity in front of others." But it's only for a moment. Pulling yourself together, you soon find a way to save face, thereby avoiding embarrassment. We need (IMHO) occasionally to remind ourselves that it's not very difficult to do an about face. The nicest thing about your visage, after all, is its flexibility — giving you the opportunity to always put a fresh face on things. Try texting that #)