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Semantic Confusion

June 2024
1min read

I wonder how many of your readers were pulled up short as I was by Professor Wenhui Hou’s statement that “Americans are overly introverted (it is only on the surface that they pretend to be outgoing)” in “Getting to Know Us” (February/March). This is certainly the opposite criticism of the one commonly made of us by visitors from other cultures.

It becomes clear in the article that Professor Hou is using introverted as a synonym for self-centered . Whether or not she is aware that one of our extroverts can be just as self-centered as any introvert I have no way of knowing, but this hardly matters in view of her clarification on the first sentence of the following paragraph.

She says that “it can seem as though no one cares about anyone else,” a statement that expresses the crux of the difference between her culture and ours. In China, where people have lived at close quarters for so many generations, the concept of being “self-centered” (or individualistic) presents an almost insurmountable hurdle to the mind. Hence, apparently, her reason for settling upon the colorless neologism introverted . We would do well to realize that the self-centered individual entered upon the stage of history about the same time that America did, and that, as Professor Hou did not hesitate to tell us, “American history is very short.”

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