To be Honest With You …
Certain phrases have snaked their way into our personal and
professional discourse. Like seasonal allergies or cellulite, they appear and
are nearly impossible to cure. But unlike seasonal allergies or cellulite, most
people don’t notice their “linguistic tics.” Allergy or cellulite sufferers
fight their afflictions with everything they can afford; but those who have
fallen prey to senseless phrases are probably unaware and, even worse, don’t
see all the hoopla I’m about to make (if you call blogging about this a “hoopla”).
I’ve had a love affair with language as far back as I can recall, so I have a hard time just ignoring these peculiar phrases that have become conventional. Here are just a few conversational crimes on the top of my list:
- “You may or may not know this…” Well, that just about covers whether you have the “Intel,” doesn’t it? Some variation of “may or may not” comes up a lot. “This may or may not be true.” Talk about covering your ass! “It may or may not happen.” I feel like I can make firm plans with that piece of information. “May or may not” is not helpful in any conversation—it says that everything is possible so it communicates nothing helpful.
- “Yeah, no…I’d love to go to the movies.” Which is it? Do you want to go or don’t you? “Yeah, no,” if you haven’t noticed, starts a lot of sentences these days—and not just among young people (anyone 25 years younger than me). People my age say it; people 10 years younger than me say it. Politicians, teachers, television interviewers, you name it; people are “yeah/no-ing” all over the place. We live in a very confusing world, and now we are subconsciously confusing each other by saying both yes and no to each other. “Yeah, no, I really like you.” “Yeah, no, I finished my homework 2 hours ago.” “Yeah, no, I think a committee on government ethics is a good idea.”
- “To be honest with you…” or some variation on the theme is used by friends, family, sales people, and public figures of all varieties (entertainment and political). Think about this one. You are having a conversation or listening to a speech. Then, you hear, “Well, to be honest with you …” What does that mean? “Listen up, I’m going to start telling you the truth now!”? What’s the point of saying “to be honest with you” unless you are finally shifting into honesty-mode after cruising along in dishonesty mode? I often reply, “Thanks for finally being honest.”
If you read these saw yourself in one or all of these things from time to time, join the club—it’s a gigantic one. Speech mannerisms emerge; sometimes they fade away. Remember “groovy”? Or “golly, gee, or that’s swell”? Some are just fads—the linguistic equivalent of tube tops, which, I hear, are making a come-back—and some, to be honest with you, just malinger. Of course, you may or may not already know that…