Four Expressions that We Could Do Without

This is an informally grumpy post. This is the sort of thing with which I bore my family and friends to tears—or, more realistically, eye-rolls—so, I think it would be more prudent to attempt to encapsulate it in words here and then let it go. I know, I know, I probably will not actually let it go, but I can try. 

In that spirit, here are four different expressions that I think, as a culture, we could do without. In all but one case, they are inherently boring and boorish. They are all, however, regularly employed by bore-boors. 

  1. “People always ask me. . . .”

Do they really? If you are internationally renowned for one very specific thing, then this could be an acceptable level of hyperbole. If you were one of the guitarists for an internationally touring Norwegian black metal band, for example, people might often ask you where you buy your guitars. If you were the leader of an established, respected religious group, people might often ask you what their/our purpose on earth is. If you were a famous artist, people might often ask you whence your ideas come.

If you are one of these things, then I express my admiration but politely suggest that you substitute often for always. If you are internationally renowned for several things, then I express my admiration with an appropriate flourish but add that, since people presumably ask you questions related to a range of topics, perhaps boiling it all down to one question is doing yourself a disservice.

However, if you are not internationally renowned for anything, then I would venture to conclude that people do not always or even often ask you any one thing, so you should come back down to join the rest of us.

Of course, if people often—I would hate to think always, but it is unfortunately conceivable—the same inane (or one of a cluster of inane) question because of some perceived difference with regard to your perceived class, ethnicity, occupation, ability level, or something similar, then you have every right to begin an exasperated response with this phrase.

2. “It’s like I always say. . . .”

This is in the same family of self-absorbed openings as #1. I am not sure whether it is more or less forgivable.

On the one hand, at least the speaker or writer is not cramming words into the mouths of unnamed Others, who, one is to believe, toddle along in a worshipful herd, respectfully asking the Great One the same question over and over again, one after another, each quietly waiting her or his turn to hear (frozen in rapture) the same pat reply.

On the other hand, the inherent solipsism is even more pronounced. Both this phrase and #1 can be readily employed by a pompous bore-boor to signal that she or he (but, let us be honest, probably he) is about to talk about whatever it is that s/he wants to talk about, regardless of whether or not it is related to what s(he)—or, Heaven forbid, someone else—was talking about before. Indeed, one could walk into a crowded (or empty) room unexpectedly, not known anyone present, and declaim this phrase. The phrase “People always ask me,” to its credit, does at least acknowledge the existence of other people.

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3. “Make no mistake. . . .”

This is yet another member of the “Can I just say one thing?” family of hackneyed expressions. I do not have any statistical evidence on hand to back this up, but I would wager that such phrases have become even more common in our social-media-infused age. In the past, even the most obnoxious self-styled pundit usually asked permission before launching into a passionately trite harangue, even if s/he would not even pause momentarily to listen for a response. This did not apply to dictators, of course. Now, anyone can be the dictator of an individual social media empire. This is not inherently a regrettable thing, nor do I want to jump into technological determinism with both feet. The conventions of one medium do not necessarily overlap completely with those of another, however. Treating a conversation as a lecture is probably not going to win anyone over. Regardless, framing everything else other than what you are about to say as mistaken (in a tone, moreover, that implies that anyone who may or may not actually be listening is likely to make such a “mistake” if the speaker is ignored) is a rhetorical move that only really works if you are communicating with a group consisting solely of individuals who already agree with you or a group of people who are too frightened, awestruck, or bored to challenge you. If you ever find yourself in such a situation, you should consider re-evaluating your life choices. 

4. “With all due respect. . . .”

I would be delighted if someone could cite a particular exception, but in my experience, what comes after this little gem is never respectful. As my partner Lisa pointed out, its equivalent is “I am not racist, but. . . .” Unlike the other expressions listed here, there is actually nothing inherently boring or boorish about this phrase, if one actually meant it. Consider an expanded hypothetical version: “Without intending to take away from the respect due to you as my parent/guardian/teacher/employer/authority figure, I still have to differ with you on this one point.” What could be considered rude or disingenuous about that? Admittedly, very few people speak like that, but it could be further abbreviated and still convey the same intention: polite disagreement. Alas, polite disagreement takes a considerable amount of effort, especially in a cultural environment that prioritizes time and individual perspective. We are all pressed for time, and nobody understands our struggle, perhaps in part because we do not have time to explain ourselves clearly, nor does anyone else have time to really pay attention. Whether or not these givens are actually true is certainly open to debate, but perception is all in such cases. Thus, arguments can escalate quickly, because “you never listen,” “you don’t understand my point of view,” and “I don’t have time for this.” Or, “With all due respect, you’re being an idiot.” I may well be doing so, but there are more polite and, perhaps more importantly, productive ways of pointing this out.

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