The Difference Between Complete and Finished

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


No dictionary has been able to adequately explain the difference between the words complete and finished. However, at a linguistic conference attended by some of the best linguists in the world, a single man changed that.

The director of the conference issued this challenge: "Some say there is no difference between the words complete and finished. Please explain the difference between complete and finished in a way that is easy to understand."

This was the man's astute answer: "When you marry the right woman, you are COMPLETE. But, when you marry the wrong woman, you are FINISHED. And when the right one catches you with the wrong one, you are COMPLETELY FINISHED!"

His answer was received with a standing ovation lasting over five minutes!

This story — taken from an e-mail that I received from a colleague — makes a very important point: Sometimes language can not be defined, explained or translated in a way that makes academic sense. Sometimes you understand the meaning only by the context of a word or the way that it is said.

Some of the most beautiful poems lose their beauty when translated, and texts translated from a different tongue to English lose their meaning.

Language transmits culture as much as a dance, music, or art does. And like these other mediums, trying to define, or understand often causes meaning to be lost. Or, the general public has moved on to a new word, painting, or instrument leaving what scholars were trying to define obsolete.

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