The game of telephone is a terrible metaphor for oral traditions.

When discussing how reliable oral traditions/histories are, people will say, “it’s like the game of telephone.” Except, it’s not. In telephone, you are whispering at slightly-higher speed about things of little importance. In oral traditions, you are talking at normal volume/speed about way more important things. You can repeat your words. You can clarify. You are often speaking to large groups of people (many of whom have heard the story before and can correct you).

It’s plausible that oral traditions aren’t reliable. It’s plausible that every time someone speaks to someone else, things get changed, forgot, misremembered, etc. But using telephone—a game that’s structure is specifically designed to make information transfer unreliable—as a way to give evidence that normal verbal communication is unreliable is dumb.

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