By Carlos Eton
There are many events, feelings, and situations that are universal in binding the human experience. As humans we experience, encounter, or simply just know these things: good, bad, love, hate, right, wrong. Fortunately for us, most of us on the planet use language to help us convey and share these universal sensations and human characteristics.
Language can be often used to express these sentiments succinctly. But language can also be used to subtly mask the true meaning of what a person really feels. Let’s call it “anti-language”—phrases that don’t really mean what we think they mean.
Let’s call it “anti-language”—phrases that don’t really mean what we think they mean.
We hear it all the time. For example, when a politician says, “I’m very sorry if the words that were spoken by me could have possibly offended someone.” Yeah, right! The very second the word “if” was muttered, the statement was no longer an apology. In fact, instead of taking responsibility, the speaker has now quietly shifted the blame onto the person who has been offended. The words “could have possibly” also shift the blame to the listener. And, to top it off, the passive statement “that were spoken by me” imply that the speaker is somehow a victim of circumstance rather than someone willing to responsibility for his or her actions.
Yes, that’s anti-language at work. But anti-language mastery is not limited to just politicians or even Madison Avenue. If you really want to witness anti-language rhetoric at work, all you need to do is ponder the words of THE BREAK-UP DISCUSSION. We all know it—it goes something like this:
“Honey, we’ve been together a long time. And we’ve really had some great memories. And you really are a special person. But I think we should see other people. You should be with someone who appreciates you. Please know, it’s not you … it’s me. I hope we can still be friends though.”
“Please know, it’s not you … it’s me. I hope we can still be friends though.”
And we all know, deep down, that the break-up discussion is nothing but anti-language. Each sentence really conveys the opposite of what the speaker truly feels.
Keep in mind, though, that when people do break up with us, we can respond with equally appropriate anti-lingual responses. I am partial to this one:
“Oh, Sweetie, I am glad you were frank about this. Of course, we can be friends—I insist on it. In fact, I want to invite you to my wedding next month. I anticipated this discussion and I proposed to your sister this morning. She said “yes!” and I know you’re happy for me! We would love for you to be the maid of honor. Also, your parents are paying for our honeymoon trip to Acapulco. How cool is that? And you’re right—I did find someone who appreciates me. If these new developments may have possibly caused any discomfort an apology might possibly be forthcoming from me in the near future.”
Yes. Anti-language at work.
I was going to end this piece with “If words written by me can possibly lead to your discomfort, this writer may offer his regrets in the near future” but I decided against it since the anti-language would have been rather obvious.
The Random Safari Express, a serial feature column by senior UVI Communication student and humorist Carlos Eton, celebrates comedy, philosophy, and the thousand (often ridiculous) random thoughts that pop into our heads during the quiet moments of our day.