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We all lie – every day!

May 13, 2007 Humour, Sunday Nation

Language is important. Words matter. It was with these sentiments in mind that I began noticing how many of us say things that we just don’t mean. I’m not referring to the glib things we say which are economical with the truth; I’m more concerned about those expressions we routinely deploy that actually mean the EXACT OPPOSITE of what we really think. We all use them, every day. Don’t believe me? Read on.

With the greatest respect. Come on, admit it: you used that one just yesterday. Admit also that what you really mean is “with the greatest contempt.” This phrase is deployed when we think the person we’re addressing is an imbecile, but who might well take violent umbrage if this is pointed out. So, we offer our “respect” to preface a derisive put-down.

This will be a short speech. If you hear that one and they haven’t locked the doors yet, depart in haste. No one has ever launched his or speech with the truth, which is: “This will be an endless, humourless and pointless treatise on every single thing that has ever concerned me. Prepare to have the life-force bored out of you.” Members of the captive audience should come prepared – with a discreet i-Pod, for example, or knowledge of Zen meditation. Otherwise prepare for a near-death experience; this phrase signals great danger.

Listen, my friend.
“Friend” is here used in the loosest possible way; loose enough, in fact, to mean “enemy”. We don’t need to call our true friends friends at all. We only do that when the person in question is anything but a friend. And it usually leads to an terribly unfriendly remark. When politicians hear themselves being referred to as friends by other politicos, their ears prick up. They know trouble is coming.

Just between you and me. Rest assured, this leads to something the whole world either knows or is about to find out. “A secret is something you tell one other person”, that great lyricist Bono wrote once (before he became a foreign-aid fanatic). And he was right. The urge to spill beans and let cats out of bags is universal. So is the need to pretend that we value discretion and confidentiality.

In all honesty. What does that even mean? Is there something other than “all honesty”? Warning: untruth coming! Someone is about to feed you a falsehood, but wants to cloak himself in virtue while doing it. Whatever you are told after that opening you should consume with much salt.

I’m not aware. Ah, the politicians’ favourite in Kenya. This one has the unique feature of being simultaneously true and untrue. True, because politicians are demonstrably not aware of anything that is really important to the people; and untrue because leaders and bureaucrats invariably use this phrase when they know exactly what happened, who stole the money, and where the bodies are hidden. I suggest a change to the laws of the land for courts to recognise “I’m not aware” as a clear admission of guilt.

I don’t like gossip, but…We all know what that one means: I love gossip! I love it when someone fills me in on the latest juicy office affair. It makes my day when you tell me about who is suspected to have stolen money in her last job. I want to do cartwheels when I hear of the latest misfortunes to befall the people I despise. And rejoice, I’m about to tell you everything!

I’m no fool. This one was best handled by the playwright Wilson Mizner, who told us that “a fellow who’s always declaring he’s no fool usually has his suspicions”. Don’t use this one. Even those who hadn’t questioned your intelligence yet will begin to wonder. People who aren’t fools don’t ever need to say so.

We have delivered commendable returns to shareholders in a difficult environment by focusing operations on enterprise-wide customer-centric realignment. This sort of garbage is often found in the CEO’s statement in the annual reports of the more desperate corporations. Translation: “We’re in deep trouble. We don’t have a clue what to do next. We’re going to fire a lot of people anyway. We’ll blame it on external factors, and hide our ineptitude behind bizarre jargon that no-one understands.” Recommendation to shareholders: Sell.

Thank you for calling; how may I help you? From the training script of every customer-service line and call centre. Sadly, anyone who has actually observed these people at work knows what they’re really thinking: “Damn it! Another caller. Did you have to call now, you twit? Is there nothing you are able to solve by yourself? Go on, bore me with your complaints and your whining. I’m not listening anyway, and I’ll only refer you to someone else. Where’s that doughnut?”

That’s it, folks. Delighted to have had your company today – have a nice day!

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