Lately I’ve been *even more* interested than usual in my words and how I use them. I’ve come to the conclusion that a number of common words and phrases don’t mean anything any more. The following is a short list of them. I’m trying to remove these from my communications and I think you should too.
1. If it makes you feel better – as in… “If it makes you feel better, I failed 3rd grade two times.”
The saying goes, “misery loves company.” But how many times has some well-meaning person unleashed that bit on you and it didn’t help at all? Every time? I think it goes something like this: I’m having a bad day. If you tell me that you also are having a bad day, my day is still bad! But that’s not the real issue. The real issue is that neither the person who uses the phrase, nor the person who receives the phrase expects the words that come after it to be of any real help or consequence. “If it makes you feel better,” really means, “I can’t think of what to say so I’m just going to talk about myself now.”
I do believe that when we’ve failed miserably, it helps to know that others have also failed miserably and that we aren’t alone on Failure Island. Still, we can do without the phrase.
Instead, try: I’m sorry you are dealing with this right now. (if you can identify with a story of a similar situation, proceed. If not, stop talking).
2. I’ll tell you right now – as in… “I thought that flying squirrel was going to bite my hand and give me rabis. I was scared, I’ll tell you that right now.”
People tend to use this phrase to give some emphasis on what they are saying. I dislike the redundancy. Of course you’ll tell me that right now, you just did or are just about to. The phrase suggests that this was part of the story that the storyteller considered withholding but is going to go ahead and reveal everything. I also see parents use this when scolding the kids. “You won’t be going to the movies tonight, I’ll tell you that right now.” Again adding emphasis but in a peculiar way. Try this: “You won’t be going to the movies tonight, and I’m quite cross!”
3. Literally – as in… “After the dog got into the trash, I literally had to go outside and put it back in the trash barrel.”
On the surface, it seems that people simply don’t understand what the word ‘literal’ means. Most could define the word accurately. However, normal, educated folks incorrectly use this word to clarify something that would never be confused with a figurative situation. If we just delete the word from our memory banks I think we’d be better off.
If it’s too difficult to determine if your words could be misunderstood as figurative or ironic, then just stop using the word all together. Don’t say you literally did something that you didn’t literally do. For example, “I literally had a cow right then and there.” Um, no you didn’t.
4. I’m Just Saying – as in… “She has a gnarly man-beard. What!? I’m just saying!”
Oh you were just saying? Okay cool, if you are just saying then that’s cool. In fact, don’t worry about being responsible for offensive, rude, off-color, or snide remarks. Just excuse yourself with a “I’m just saying” and forget about dealing with the consequences of your words. When you become acutely aware that words have meaning and can hurt or shock or offend people don’t quickly try to cover it up with a meaningless phrase.
Instead, try: “I shouldn’t have said that. I apologize.”
5. I’m not going to lie – as in… “I’m not going to lie, that was the best pie-eating contest I’ve ever been in.”
Stop. Just stop and ask yourself: is this something someone would expect me to lie about? If the answer is ‘no,’ then you can just forget about this phrase. It’s too bad because I think this is a legit phrase that can be used in situations where a person might be guilty of humoring or patronizing. People over-use the phrase for placing emphasis on their words and it has certainly lost credibility as an expression of being truthful in the midst of a doubtful scenario.
Instead, try: “you may find this difficult to believe, but…”