What People Say Vs. What They Mean

I think we’ve all encountered a lot of these in our lives — thinly-veiled pleasantries that seek to obfuscate the speaker’s true intentions. Though I don’t think we’re ever really fooled about what they’re actually saying, it’s probably better for society to pretend we take things on face-value. I think we all need our thin web of lies now and again. The truth is just too harsh all at once.

What They Say: “I’m getting pretty into wine lately.”

What They Mean: “I just recently read a picture-heavy book on wine that covered the absolute basics, and I really liked what I saw, so I think this is going to be my life’s work for the next month or two. I know the difference between pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, please ask me about it. Please. Please. I don’t want to have to awkwardly insert this into conversations by myself.”

What They Say: “I’m fine *dejected look*”

What They Mean: “I may be bordering on morose right now, but if you do not proceed to ask me, in detail, what is wrong and listen to the protracted answer — I will become extremely upset. Also, you must ask me a minimum of 4 times, that way it can look like I didn’t really want to say anything and you had to pry me out of my emotionally demure shell.”

What They Say: “Yeah, I don’t own a TV.”

What They Mean: “I am less dependent on the Rupert Murdoch-piloted mind machine than you are, and therefore, a person of much higher quality. Obviously, being that I use a Macbook Pro, I could clearly afford a basic TV if I so desired — but it’s not a question of money. Not owning a TV because you’re poor is not something you brag about. If cutting yourself off from mass media is an option, however, it’s definitely a point of conversation. Plus, I just watch all of my TV shows on the internet anyway.”

What They Say: “Yeah, I’m totally over him /her, I don’t even really think about it anymore. But, you know…”

What They Mean: “I am at the phase of this breakup in which not talking about my ex for even ten minutes causes my physical pain, so please continue to ask me tedious questions whose answers you’ve long since stopped caring about. Don’t worry, when you are going through this, I’ll do the same for you. But for now, it’s me, and I need to simultaneously pretend to not care about them while they remain the only thing I am am capable of talking about. Don’t break the illusion.”

What They Say: “City biking without the right equipment is like diving without oxygen.”


What They Say: “I don’t care…wherever you want to go to dinner.”

What They Mean: “Once again, the onus to pick what we’re going to do and when we’re going to do it falls upon you, as I am incapable of making even the most innocuous decision. Taking charge and even selecting something as simple as where we’re going to eat tonight would be too severe a test of my powers of decision-making. Better to let you, once again, take charge–at least that way if it sucks, it’s your fault!”

What They Say: “I’m not racist, but…”

What They Mean: “I’m a humongous racist, and…”

What They Say: “I never eat fast food, I won’t put that stuff in my body.”

What They Mean: “When I am drunk at 2 AM and stuffing chicken nuggets into my face like I’m trying to smuggle them past border control, this clearly does not count towards who I am as a person. I’m allowed the errant drunk noms without being held to the title of ‘Person Who Sometimes Eats Fast Food.’ You’re not allowed to judge me, but I can judge you.”

What They Say: “I’m pregnant!”

What They Mean: “Though I will firmly state, over and over again, that I am not one of ‘those moms’ who cannot pry herself away from her uterus for two minutes to have a conversation about a new movie or something, you will slowly watch all of my social media and personal interactions devolve into a perpetual state of talking about flu shots and diaper genies. Get ready!”

What They Say: “I love nerdy boys!”

What They Mean: “I love hot guys who happen to wear glasses and cardigans and would be open to watching Doctor Who with me. However, put me in front of an actual programmer who spends most of his evenings on Reddit and Steam, and there are no sneakers in the world that could survive how fast I would run away. My feet would literally combust from the friction against the pavement.”

What They Say: “It’s not a big deal or anything.”

What They Mean: “It’s an unbelievably big deal, and I can’t believe you don’t agree.”

What They Say: “I listen to everything but [insert genre here, usually country or rap].”

What They Mean: “Of course I don’t actually listen to everything, I’m not sitting here pirating album upon album of Tuvan throat singing remixes and only shy away from the program the minute Alan Jackson or Tupac come up, but I can’t emphasize enough how much I hate that particular genre. Plus, saying it this way makes it seem like I’m extremely musically cultivated (because I listen to literally everything else), but have used such discerning ears to whittle out whatever that genre I don’t like is. In short, I am better than everyone.”

What They Say: “Maybe.”

What They Mean: “I swear to God, if you invite me to one more of your incredibly uninteresting Facebook events, I will personally come over to your house while you’re sleeping and scatter Legos around your bed so that when you wake up, no matter where you place your feet, you are guaranteed to start your day off by stepping on a Lego. I don’t know if you’ve realized, but I don’t even live in the same state as you, so even if I was interested in seeing your mediocre band — I would have no way of getting there on time after a day of work, unless I were to convince France to re-invest in the Concorde and have it permanently parked in my front lawn. I don’t know why you think that constantly inundating people with unwanted information and invitations to your pet projects will make people more interested, but please know that this is a faulty premise.” TC mark

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Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.


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  • Jessica

    nerdy boys is accurate. 

  • Anonymous

    “What They Say: “I love nerdy boys!””

    Aaaand I’m burnt.

  • Sophist-icated

    “I’m not a racist but…..”

    In my family we believe everything before the “but” is bullshit.

    Ex: “Not to be mean but…..” “Not to be superficial but…….”  Not to ruin your day but…..”

    Good call Ryan, good call. 

    • Sophist-icated

      -Chelsea, not Ryan

      Bad call me, bad call. *Facepalm*

  • Adamcrittenden

    Haiku #7

    You told me I was good
    in bed, but I only heard
    “I have to pee.”

  • Sama

    “I’m fine *dejected look*” I just walk away from people who say this to me. Far, far away.

    • Asdf

      Isn’t that the general case for most conflicting word/body language scenarios, though?
      Think about it. How would you react to someone saying, “I’m so pissed off right now. *beaming smile*” 
      Or “I’m so happy right now. *angry, menacing look*” 
      Or “I’m rather meh. *curious stare*” 
      Or “I’m quite randy. *slouching couch potato posture*” 

      In all cases I would walk — if not run — away. To me, it’s a sign of craziness to state one thing while projecting another. Your mileage may vary.

  • http://twitter.com/PatrishCee Patricia Capiral

    LOL yesss

  • Guestropod

    So true.  But omg Redditors are mostly the worst.  

    • Asdf

      What they say: “So true. But omg Redditors are mostly the worst.” 
      What they mean: “So true. But omg Redditors are mostly the best.”

      • Guestropod

        nah that place is a cesspool of racists, sexists and pedos

  • Sophia

    Thank you for articulating oh so well exactly the thought process of someone who says “i’m fine…………..”. It drives me crazy, people who hint like that, practically begging you to ask them what’s wrong.

  • melbell

    “Tuvan throat singing” lols. Apparently I do listen to everything but country.

  • http://dirtyyoungmen.wordpress.com/ Maxwell Chance

    What are you supposed to say if it actually is “not a big deal or anything?”

    Also, dead on with the nerdy boy stuff.

    • Dreamhowl

       aww i dunno – whilst your programmer’s busy being a full on nerd you can chill out on your own laptop on Steam and everything’s fine.

  • http://twitter.com/Amphx AnnaMariaPhilippeaux

    What They Say: “I’m not racist, but…” What They Mean: “I’m a humongous racist, and…” Dead on! I don’t think there exists a less intelligent way to begin a sentence.

  • Josh Gondelman

    I have benefited SO MUCH from girls who think they like nerdy guys. I’m just a nearsighted dude who likes sports but doesn’t own any Affliction t-shirts. It’s a great scam I have running.

    You’re blowing up my spot, Fagan!!!

  • Nina

    Actually, when I say “I don’t own a tv,” I finish that sentence with “because I’m poor.”  I’m a young recent college grad.  It’s understandable.

  • Asdf

    What they say: “Yes.”

    What they mean: “No.”

  • Anonymous

    I guess I gotta start wearing my glasses again

  • Sara

    Oh man why this? Why don’t ppl say what they mean? Im so thick and struggle to read between the lines. You don’t want to tell me what’s wrong? Ok I won’t mollycoddle you to tell me cos of you don’t care to tell then I don’t care to hear. Stop seeking attention and grow up.

    Also you forgot: ‘oh I’m eating healthy right now’ meaning ‘as soon as I get home I am going smash a block of chocolate and nachos but for now I’m totally going to comment on how many calories your brownie laced ice cream has and ruin your enjoyment of it. Mmk? Haha! Love ya’
    These ppl can diaf

  • http://ladymercury-10.livejournal.com/ Maiasaura

    No, when I say I like nerdy boys, I mean I like nerdy boys.  I am a math department girl–I think I’m qualified to make that judgment.  :P  Although I am a little afraid of Reddit…I used to be a Redditor myself, and it is definitely an acquired taste.

    Also, can’t you block people from sending you invites if you are really that annoyed?  I think you may even be able to block them from specific people.

  • punny

    I ONLY listen to rap and country.

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