I’ve always held the word ‘No’ in high regard. Apart from its structural simplicity it’s always stood by me like a good friend when I’ve considered myself at risk in the face of questions like, “Was it you who put live frogs in the lavatory bowl?” or, “Would you care for a second helping of boiled broccoli and burned liver?”
But despite this status as the most important term that folks can ever learn as far as their personal safety is concerned, a simple ‘No.’ often appears to be the most feared and least used word in diving.
Which is rather strange considering how much easier it is to remember and understand than many of the terms, formulas and technical definitions that pad out the glossaries of diving manuals.
Knowing the proper terminology is, of course, a handy asset for everyone who takes diving seriously. However, it’s even more important to understand the practical significance of a term and its relevance to safe diving practice, in much the same way that it’s sometimes just as useful to recognise who is saying something rather than what it is that they’re saying.
Diving purists, for example, refer to flippers as ‘fins’, while grizzled old divers are still regarded as experienced veterans for insisting on calling their fins ‘flippers’. The point being that what is said is less important than understanding what is meant.
For some divers, however, ‘talking the talk’ has become an obsession; one that blinds them to the fact that diving is a practical activity made safer and more enjoyable when it’s combined with a common sense approach to the use of language. Especially when a misunderstanding over what was said – as opposed to what was meant – could have disastrous consequences.
It wouldn’t, for instance, be sensible for a Dive Master to introduce the Gas Law formulas into a dive briefing and say something like, “On your descent keep in mind that P1 over P2 times V1 equals V2”, when all that was required was a reminder about the need to monitor gauges more often at depth.
Acronyms can be equally confusing. Diving has lots of them. AAS’s; ABT’s; AGE’s; ATM’s; ATA’s; BCD’s; BT’s; CNS’S; DCS’s, and on through the entire alphabet. Reducing names and phrases down to their initials may be a convenient form of verbal shorthand, but they’re only practical when all parties in a conversation know precisely what they mean in the context in which they’re used.
And further muddying the waters of intelligent and meaningful communication, diving’s also blessed with its own fair share of slang expressions.
Despite these apparent obstacles, most divers quickly become familiar with the commonplace terms and expressions in regular use. A few even claim to understand what they mean.
Sadly, however, it’s a learning process in which it’s easy to forget the importance of simple language and the value of phrases like, “I don’t know”, or, “I don’t understand” – and even the difference between “Yes!” and “No!”.
“So when I asked, at the end of the dive briefing, ‘Does everybody feel confident about doing this dive?’ and you answered with ‘Yes’, what you actually meant to say was ‘No’?”
“Yes. But only ‘cause I was confused by all of those acro-thingies and I was too embarrassed to admit that I don’t know my AAS from my elbow.”
“And then when I asked – just before you and your buddy entered the water – ‘Do you both understand the time, depth and air supply parameters of this dive?’ and you said ‘Yes’, you really meant to say, ‘No’? “
“No. I meant ‘Yes’ because my buddy seemed to understand what you said. I didn’t know that he’d said ‘Yes’ because I hadn’t said ‘No’.”
Fearing ridicule if they admit to ignorance or voice doubts and concerns about their ability to carry out a particular dive, there’s a tendency among many divers – at every level of experience – to put pride before their personal well-being and enjoyment. Caving in to peer pressure they’ll ignore all of their instincts and say ‘Yes’, even when their gut feeling tells them to say ‘No’.
Which is just about as silly as me saying, ‘Yes!’ when asked: “Was it you who put live frogs in the lavatory bowl?”