we never did too much talking anyway

I would like the following euphemisms excised from polite speech:

  • “It is what it is.” No. I disagree. Now let’s fight over it.

    It doesn’t much help that “it is what it is” most often surfaces as a sort of cheery fatalism, an unwillingness to tackle a problem. We can’t change the facts! If I wrap this statement in tautology, it becomes self-evident! It is what it is, and it can’t be what it’s not, which we’d rather, so let it be.

    (We mock “it is what it is” on the Overthinking It podcast pretty often)

  • “Now, more than ever …” I find millennialism repulsive in all its forms, but this euphemism dates back centuries. We live in Interesting Times, completely different from any Times that existed in the Past! For one, children disrespect their elders! Illness is rampant in the cities and the lower classes groan in poverty! Also, there are barbarians in the outermost provinces!

    I can’t think of many crises, ills or challenges that affect me and my friends now more than they ever did a comparable group of people in the past.

  • “I just wanted to say that …” Right. I understood that you wanted to say that, as evidenced by the fact that you said it. You don’t need to remind me that you’re a sentient being, my recent experiments in biological reductionism notwithstanding.

    This one doesn’t seem harmful. It’s the sort of throat-clearing we all engage in before getting to the interesting part of a sentence. But verbiage that doesn’t communicate information or mood is harmful. We read or hear it often enough and we start glossing over it. And glossing over speech puts language in the service of evil.

  • “Society …” as the subject of a sentence. “Society” is not an agent of action. Society doesn’t tell men or women to do things. Society doesn’t take away your job. Now while there are impersonal, institutional forces at work that circumscribe the lives of people that no member of that force will ever meet – i.e., I can be limited by the Church’s views on marriage even if I never set foot in a church – it aids nothing to call that force “society.” No one ever got butter on their bread by talking more abstractly.

  • “There are two kinds of people in the world …” The distinction between x and non-x rarely bears fruit outside of pre-school pedagogy, collegiate logic textbooks and high-level programming, yet you can find it in the Washington Post editorial page with sad regularity. This distinction never works. Half the time, it’s so tautological as to be useless (“there are two kinds of people in the world: members of The Rolling Stones, and the rest of us”). The other half, it draws a false dichotomy.

    A peer educator in my high school once passed along the following wisdom from his grandmother, about the two kinds of people in the world: “those who learn from experience, and those who learn from everyone else’s experience.” And while it was an interesting point at the time, useful to the moral of the lesson (namely, Don’t Do Drugs), it’s a false dichotomy. What about people who don’t learn and keep making the same mistakes? What about people who learn from fictional experience – who were scared off of heroin by Requiem for a Dream? What about people who expect a situation to turn out poorly, like a midnight road trip to Vegas, but who do it anyway because they want the experience? All of these could be acknowledged and glossed over, if the speaker hadn’t framed the story with the “two kinds of people” trope.

  • “You owe it to yourself …” Then I default on the obligation. Who’s going to come collect?

  • “Tiny favor” / “Huge favor” Have you noticed that the effort requested by that phrase is inversely proportional to the word used? Moving a couch is a “tiny favor”; answering the phone while you pee is a “huge favor.”

  • “At least I’m doing something!” This sentence only lives in rebuttals. Someone advances a plan: let’s hold a bake sale to save our school; let’s burn the house down and use the insurance money to pay off our debt; let’s bomb villages to catch terrorists, et cetera. Someone else points out that the plan might not work: we won’t pay off a ten thousand dollar debt with brownie money; insurance companies employ sophisticated arson investigators; bombing villages will create the sort of dissatisfaction that terrorists arise from, and so forth. The response, “Well, at least I’m doing something. What are you doing?”

    Most of us get embarrassed when we realize we forgot a crucial variable in the success of our plan. But “at least I’m doing something!” trumpets your apathy boldly. So what if my plan won’t work? Plans don’t have to work in order to be good. They just have to be bold! Action trumps thought; all forward motion is progress; idle hands are the devil’s playground.

  • Blog / photoblog / liveblog / vlog / bleg. I mean, come on.


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