The total opposite or total opposition?

By Guest Author Andrew Richards

Why don’t people mean what they say? Why do they so often speak ironically, in riddles, or with double meanings? Is this wasted communication, simply using up words that fill an imaginary void? I can’t really say why people use these disingenuous phrases but it really helps if you can recognise and interpret them, especially when precision is a key factor of the discussion.

With maximum cynicism and sarcasm, here’s my quick guide on how I would interpret them:

Joe Biden paying his respects

Joe Biden paying his respects

‘With all due respect….’ Really means without any respect, I disagree with you completely and I’m about to contradict what you just said, and do it in front of your peers.

‘Without meaning to sound rude…..’ Really means I’m about to say something really rude and hope that by warning you first, it will reduce the insult to an acceptable level. Of course it won’t, it will just make the other party feel better for a split second.

‘It’s not really important or relevant but….’ Really means you obviously haven’t considered what I’m about to tell you so you’d better listen up. Why else would you bother to say it??

‘As soon as possible….’ Really means right now, and in common use this is a huge source of confusion. Your ‘as soon as possible’ may be by today and mine may be by the end of the year. This deliberate imprecision is best avoided at all costs, unless of course you are the one who wants to delay the idea.

‘We really must get together for a meal some time…’ Really means what the hell are you doing here, I’m embarrassed to see you, I didn’t expect to see you and definitely means we’ll never get together for a meal as long as I have breath in my body.

It’s often said by married men when an old flame gets divorced and appears on the single scene unexpectedly!!

‘If I could just interrupt for a second…’ Actually you already have. Why not barge in and start talking? We were not doing anything as important as listening to you.

‘As you would be aware….’ Really means I’ve already told you this and for some inexplicable reason you’ve chosen to ignore it or forget it. If your colleagues say this, then best to reconsider; if your boss says this, then definitely reconsider.

If your wife or husband says this, then just do it.

‘If truth be told…’ You’d really say that? Does this mean there is some alternative conversations we’ve had where the truth was not told? Do you need to signpost the truthful discussion from the other kind??

‘I’ll obviously do my best with that…’ Really means I obviously won’t because I doubt it has any chance of success and I’m unlikely to put effort into a doomed project.

‘Let’s see what happens next with this…’ Really means I know what will happen next. Someone else outside this discussion will not deliver, not participate or kill off your idea.

lets do lunch‘Let’s do lunch….’ See also page above. Really means let’s not. But at least I got my invite in first, so you will have to work out if I meant it or not. It’s really more of a polite ‘goodbye’.

‘Off the top of my head….’ Really means I’m making this up as I go along and you shouldn’t take any notice of what comes off the top of my head, or out of my mouth.

‘What I suppose I mean is….’ Really means I’m about to say something rude, I was just trying to be polite with my previous version.

‘I’ll get right on to that….’ Really means I’ll do it once I have done everything else I can think of doing, but meanwhile you can think that I think what you say is actually important. See also “As soon as possible” above.

‘That’s a great idea….’ Is really an example of litotes (a type of irony), where someone says the opposite of what they mean. So really what they mean is ‘that’s a terrible idea’.

There is also an interesting cultural aspect to this as well. I live in Copenhagen, Denmark: When a Dane asks that very common question, ‘How are you?’, they are genuinely enquiring about your wellbeing.

A typical Dane arriving for lunch. Don’t ask him how he is unless you actually want to know.

A typical Dane arriving for lunch. Don’t ask him how he is unless you actually want to know.

Danes assume when non-Danes ask this, they are also equally interested. English speaking non-Danes tend to run the words together into a mumbled, ‘hi-howareyou’ without ever expecting someone to answer. It’s no more than a verbal filler.

Danes then pick up on the enquiry and politely answer, wondering why their enquirer has already walked away.

Off the top of my head, and not wanting to sound rude, we are very rude and disingenuous, if truth be told. But let’s get together for a meal some time, as soon as possible.


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