The subtleties of conversation are never-ending, offering us pause for thought, opportunities for laughter and even greater opportunities for confusion. They can sometimes be fun to watch, and excruciating at the same time, while being a part of a manipulated conversation, and ‘reading between the lines’ can be an exercise in linguistics and context.
You know how it is… You are told one thing, but the meaning is quite significantly different, yet the message is delivered with such guile and subtlety, and you are being neutralised with such delicacy and élan that you will admire it later. I love the nuances of the English language, and here are a few ‘tightropes’ we walk as English speakers.
Probably the best example is when you are having an argument or discussion with someone, and they say, “Fine!” Alone, on its own, without any embellishment. The word fine is defined as an ‘informal acceptance of agreement, satisfaction or support’, yet we have surely all been in a situation when, “Fine,” has been an utterance used not as an agreement, but as the full-stop to an argument, it offers the unspoken meaning: “You are wrong, but do what you want, nothing you say is going to change my mind.”
In the same vein, “Go ahead,” is rarely anything other than a well disguised threat. Although, especially the mere male, we will accept it as permission to do something, it is in fact, the exact opposite, and you should never ever fall for the trap that, “Go ahead” obscures. If you do, you will be paying the price for ages.
Have you ever noticed that when people say or write, “In my humble opinion,” that they are the least humble people you know, and are simply being fawning, obsequious, sycophantic, servile, ingratiating, unctuous, groveling, and really the furthest from humble it’s possible to be? Yes, me too.
‘Whatever’, means ‘no matter what happens’. Yet, it is used more often today as a dismissive phrase, and especially among the younger generation, and mostly as… “what-eva” in a very I-don’t-care-do-what-you-like fashion. It’s very much a generational thing.
I’ve read too, somewhere, that when a woman says, “It’s okay”, you should be doubly wary. Apparently, what she is really thinking is: “You’ve made a huge mistake, and I’m just taking my time working out how you will pay.” So, the reality is guys, if you’re on the receiving end of an “it’s okay,” it probably really isn’t.
And what about when you see someone about to say something, and they don’t actually say anything. Having recognised their initial move, you, of course, ask what they were going to say.
Yet, the response is so often, “Nothing.” Now, everybody knows that “nothing” in those circumstances really means something, and you should be concerned.
I get a wee bit of a kick too, out of being able to correct, or contradict someone, soon after they have said, “Correct me if I’m wrong.”
The reason being, by saying so in such a way, they don’t think there is any way they can possibly be wrong. It’s almost a threat, daring you to contradict them at your very peril, is being issued. And the reality is that they don’t want to be corrected, even if they are wrong.
The English language then, is a wonderful, though potentially manipulated and mocked rock of our age. However, Nelson Mandela wrote, “Without language, we cannot talk to and understand others, share their hopes and aspirations, grasp their history, appreciate their poetry, or savor their songs,” to bring some balance to my cynicism.
Best perhaps, sometimes, to seek comfort in Robert Benchley’s full-stop to this comment: “Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.”