Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Discovering But-Heads

After I posted about the former Steelers kicker who insisted on prefacing excuses with disclaimers about not making excuses, and then referenced some previous posts about how those sorts of disclaimers are not only disingenous, but they often aggravate the words they're meant to mitigate, Cliff Krieger posted this Globe article describing those very phrases as 'but-heads.'

I had no idea that there was already the term, or the synonymous "wishywasher," "false front," or "lying disclaimer."

McKean, the author of, makes tons of interesting points in her essay. She makes the point that people use these disclaimers in their speech because they basically want to have it both ways -- they want to make their point, but they also don't want to really step out on a limb, so they hedge their bet with "I hate to say it" and all its verbal cousins.

The only point I thought she could have added is that the words themselves often make otherwise innocuous statements become suspect. I can recall a time a couple years ago, when I was working in CT but living in MA, when someone asked me how that came to be. In and of itself, that's a totally reasonable question that I would've been perfectly happy to answer, but it was prefaced with a full minute's worth of "please don't take this the wrong way" "I don't mean to pry," and "If this is something you don't want to talk about, I totally and completely understand."

Huh? I never would've even remembered the interaction if it had been more straightforward, but all the hemming and hawing left a strange enough taste in my mouth for me to remember it to this day. Did this lady think I was a Chinese spy or something? Rather than serve to mitigate, the string of but-heads just made it clear that she thought something wasn't adding up, and it gave me the creeps.

Friends shouldn't have to resort to this type of speech at all. Last night, I had dinner with a good friend at Blue Taleh. Afterwards, as we were walking back up Merrimack Street, he just told me, apropos of nothing, "Page, you're crowning, dude. You should really consider using Rogaine."

No idiotic disclaimers. No garbage about how to take it. And most important, no need. It was a friend offering genuine, honest advice to another.

All I could say was "thank you" and that I'd look into it.

I wish more interactions could be that direct.

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