Asperger Syndrome is having a masters degree in English and yet being quite oblivious to the fact that ‘fingers crossed’ does not mean that people are literally contorting their fingers for you.
Yes, it only occurred to me today, at the ripe age of nearly 37, that ‘fingers crossed’ might fall into the ‘just an expression’ category. In fact, this would probably never have occurred to me had I not seen someone make a joke in response to someone’s comment of ‘Everything crossed’, pretending to take it literally, with smiley faces to show they were joking. I have observed that when people jokily pretend to take an expression literally, then this means the expression isn’t actually a literal expression. And so it dawned on me – all these years of being reluctant to join in choruses of ‘fingers crossed’ because I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep my fingers crossed all day long, and I didn’t understand what good crossing my fingers would do anyway, were quite misguided. ‘Fingers crossed’ is simply a non-literal way of saying ‘Good luck’. And the logical extension to this, much to my relief, is that ‘everything crossed’ is not the boastful, bizarre and unrealistic deception I always thought it was (my poor imagination had such a hard time trying to work out what exactly this would entail!).
How on earth did I not ever realise this? It seems so utterly obvious now, but it simply never occurred to me before. I’d simply become accustomed to it as a phrase that bothered and confused me – one of the many things in the world that simply don’t make sense – and so I’d never thought to see whether it could be interpreted differently.
And yet I am able to recognise and dissect complex non-literal language in poetry and novels. The difference is that when studying English literature, we were taught to look for symbolism and non-literal language. Analysis of it is demonstrated time and time over in the published literary criticism. Nothing is left unsaid, or assumed to be understood – it’s all acknowledged and analysed. I absolutely loved studying English literature because of this. Never before had I entered a world of in-depth analysis and interpretation of things I encountered. Suddenly the world made more sense than it ever had before!
In general conversation, however, people don’t tend to dissect their words or much is left unsaid. So non-literal language can be harder to spot – particularly if it’s an expression I’ve known from an early age, and have just accepted as something that doesn’t make sense. Had I heard the expression ‘Fingers crossed’ for the first time today, the strangeness of it would have stood out more and I would have googled it and thus learnt straight away what it meant! In fact, I’ve just done so now, to see how easy it is to find the answer, and lo and behold, answers.com has the answer: ‘If you say that someone is keeping their fingers crossed, they mean that they are hoping for good luck.’ (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_fingers_crossed_mean)
I think I’ve mentioned before how, when I was a teenager, the other girls in my class would sometimes call me stupid. When I pointed out that this was illogical because they would often call me clever at other times, they agreed and said that I was very clever at schoolwork, but that I was also stupid. I asked how this was possible, and they said they didn’t know, and that it was weird. And at moments like this, when I realise how I’ve failed to understand something obvious, I understand what they mean.
Adults tend to be politer than teenagers, so people generally don’t tell me I’m stupid nowadays, but they sometimes indicate it in their tone of voice and facial expression (and contrary to stereotypes about autism, I do see and hear such things – I may not process them on the spot, but I observe them and analyse them afterwards). And other times they tell me I’m very intelligent. And sometimes they respond to something I say with a look of surprise that I’m not sure how to interpret – when I analyse it in context of what is said, this look seems to be saying that I am right/clever, but in a weird way that most people aren’t, and the person isn’t sure whether to admire me or to see me as an oddity!
Anyway, I am as I am, regardless of how people choose to interpret me! And hopefully this blog demystifies some of the ‘oddness’ of people on the autistic spectrum.