The Curious Things People Say

Here are some things people say that are quite curious if you’re the type to obsessively overanalyze.

“Not to be rude, but…”

What occurs after this expression is almost always a rude or confrontational statement (or at least a statement that the person who said “Not to be rude, but…” thinks is possibly rude). Example: “Uh, not to be rude but that guy can go fuck himself. If he didn’t want to get punched he shouldn’t have been drunkenly hitting on the guy’s girlfriend all night. Kid was being an idiot…”

“Not to be rude, but…” is a curious expression. To be rude basically indicates behaving in an aggressive, offensive way without regard (or even in spite of) for how anyone may interpret the behavior. So to preface a rude, aggressive or confrontational statement with the fact that you’re not making a rude, aggressive or confrontational statement is a bit mind bending if you think about it too hard. Maybe it can be translated into something as simple as this: “I’m the type of person who has regard for other people’s feelings, so don’t let this statement I’m about to make lead you to believe otherwise.”

“Not a good fit”

I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that “Not a good fit” comes from the office world, where sugar-coating rhetoric is so slick and convoluted that you can get demoted with language that makes you feel like you’re being promoted; that you can get fired but think it’s because you were such a great employee. At your quarterly review, which has been approaching with a looming sense of dread, here’s what they tell you: “Well after checking out the data, it’s been decided (use of present perfect continuous + ‘neutral’ pronoun is another curious strategy to minimize impact/ responsibility – more on that next) that we’re just not a good fit for you.” The translation, of course, is “You’re fired because you’re incompetent,” but what “Not a good fit” manages to do here is transform the feeling into something that’s much less personal. You may argue that this is good, but I would argue that it’s bad; I’d rather receive the information in a comprehensible way that doesn’t end up making him feel empty and confused afterward.

Combining non-personal pronouns with the past or present perfect continuous tense

Since what I’ve just written above probably makes no sense to anyone who’s not an English teacher (I had to google variations on “tense” to figure out what I was trying to get across…) I’ll start with an example. “Mam, a vibrator was found in the bag you checked in.” Admittedly, this example is from, I think, a Chuck Palahnuik novel – I think it’s Fight Club, but I can’t be sure – and it briefly discusses why the vibrator in the woman’s luggage was explained this way: because it doesn’t overtly implicate any responsibility on anyone’s behalf; not even those that found the vibrator. It’s “A vibrator was found,” not “We found a vibrator,” and “in the bag you checked in,” not “in your bag.” Moreover, because “A vibrator was found in the bag you checked in” is slightly less embarrassing than saying/ hearing “Mam, we found a vibrator in your bag,” which also comes across as slightly accusatory – and if you’re a certain type of person, shaming – combining non-personal pronouns with the past tense is basically a minor side-stepping of awkwardness or discomfort that comes with confrontation via the deniability of personal responsibility and consequent total lack of implication of any kind. In fact, now that I think about it more, it seems like we can all agree that all of these curious things people say here listed are simply expressed to dull what may otherwise be a sharp confrontation.

“I’m not SAYING I disagree with you, but…”

But, yeah, you’re actually disagreeing. Just as is the case with all the curious things people say in this list, to posit that you aren’t “SAYING” you disagree with someone while simultaneously presenting a counterargument to theirs is a way to pad your statement; a way to package it into comfortable civility. People, of course, dislike confrontation, and so we avoid it. In that effort, here we sort of succeed in fitting a square peg into a round hole, as it were, but only the most daft of us are tricked into believing that an argument isn’t happening just because someone tells us that an argument isn’t happening.

On the other hand – in the case of “I’m not SAYING I disagree with you, but…” – it can be argued that the statement in question is not in fact a lie: one is literally not saying “I disagree with you,” and so in that vein, the statement is correct. What’s happening is that one is disagreeing by presenting opposing arguments and perhaps engaging in passive takedowns, depending on one’s conversational style and demeanor. Moreover, “I’m not SAYING I disagree with you, but…” can be thrown in there as a sort of roundabout way of expressing or emoting that you understand the other person’s logic and despite the fact that it’s wrong, you don’t hold it against him. TC mark

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  • FC

    And of course there is the obvious “having said that…” contradiction, a la Larry David

  • asjklfsa

    Uh you mean passive tense? That would have been an easier way to put it.

    • asjklfsa

      Sorry I mean passive voice*

      • Kathbarbadoro

        you'd think a writer would know what passive voice is?

    • eric

      And there are no “non-personal pronouns” in the Palahniuk example either. Indeed, it's exactly the absence of a possessive pronoun Gorrell finds problematic. But oh well. People just love to take a useful if obscure formalism and then shit everywhere with it.

  • Erika Lillian

    There's also, “I dont mean to sound racist but..” or “I'm not racist, but..”. People think this disclaimer works to hide their inherent racism?

    • Emke

      http://www.notracistbut.com/

      Why people publicly espouse their “not racist” sentiments, I don't know. “I'm not racist but…” usually implies the speaker is racist, no buts.

  • http://maxwellchance.wordpress.com Duke Holland of Gishmale

    “I’m the type of person who has regard for other people’s feelings, so don’t let this statement I’m about to make lead you to believe otherwise.” 

    My new favorite thing to say.

  • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

    Love the subtitle.

  • http://twitter.com/rislynsey christopher lynsey

    “You would” is another good one.

  • Kelly

    Also, “I'm just saying.”  If someone says something terribly offensive and throws up his/her hands and says “I'm just saying,” then it is supposed to be somehow less offensive.  No, you weren't “just saying,” you were being an asshole.

  • lauren

    or my favorite, “bless your heart”, which really just means “i'm about to insult you but this is the South and we don't do that here”

    • Nicholae Cline

      “he’s a complete fuckup, bless his heart”

    • Nicholae Cline

      “he’s a complete fuckup, bless his heart”

  • eferf51
  • your cousin

    Ma'am

  • eferf50
  • Shugenite118

    it’s been decided (use of present perfect continuous )

    Sorry- not continuous verb tense! It's ok though

  • guest

    When I say 'I'm not saying I disagree with you, but' I'm saying I don't disagree with the basic idea the person is trying to get across, I usually just have, like, a minor quibble with the way they're presenting it or something.

  • freddipass

    Hey I heard “not a good fit” recently.  But it was more meant to mean “if you don't like it, get out.”

  • Lambros Pobjoy

    I'm not a racist, but…

  • coffeeandinternets

    My favorites, care of Summer Heights High/Ja'mie King: “no offense, but it's true,” and describing things as “random” when it's less that the subject in question is random and more that the person in question has a limited vocabulary.

  • erin

    i love your articles about grammar and linguistics and common life. 

  • lol.

    My favourite part of this article is when you pretend you don’t know the example is from Fight Club.

  • Anonymous

    that third point was like solving a puzzle
    it was also that “oooh” moment, where you suddenly understand what’s being talked about and over-exaggeratedly nod your head in agreement. well done.

  • Iamawesome

    Actually, it’s the use of the passive voice rather than the active voice.

  • http://imlikecocaine.wordpress.com/ Ana

    i wouldn’t want to offend you, it’s not like it’s wrong or anything, but…it’s ok as it is, you don’t necessarily have to change it, i’m not trying to deny your writing, it’s just that…

    brilliant. the saga of useless words, now that you’ve put it that way, it sounds so passive-aggressive .^^

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