I make no apology for being of a rather sensitive disposition. I have become fairly good at acknowledging this quality in myself, and adjusting my gut reaction accordingly. “Strike while the iron is lukewarm!” has been a useful phrase in recent years, and I’m quite a master of the internalized, unvoiced response to the statement, “Gosh, you are so sensitive!” when it implies that this is a shortcoming. My silence, or my self-effacing brush off – whichever the mood seems to elicit – is masking a response that desperately wants to say “Actually, YOU are incredibly insensitive!” I thrive on sensitivity. It is a crucially important and positive element in my life and work. Humor is also very helpful as an aid to sanity…
Q: May I be frank?
A: Yes, of course, but I fail to see how changing your name will help anything…!
This morning, however, this hit particularly close to home when my darling six-year old son said to me, “No offense, but how did you get so fat?” I would be lying if I said that a small part of my inner confidence didn’t crumble at this observation. However, my overriding emotion was one of amusement that he could so innocently come up with such a zinger. (I shall also be kicking the diet and exercise routine into high gear first thing tomorrow, since my trip to the bathroom scale this evening demonstrated that his question was based, very substantially, in truth!)
The entertaining aspect is that my son is coming out with some choice phrases to preface his comments recently. We’ve been through the “Daddy, I really love you!” which usually precedes the question “Can I watch something on TV?” And now, in addition to the “No offense, but…” line, we often have the “Daddy? One question” line. Yesterday evening the conversation went thus:
E: “Daddy? One question. Do you have scissors?”
NW: (slightly worried) “Yes…I have some right here. Do you need some help?”
E: (without missing a beat) “Daddy? One question. (Which, of course, is the second question!) How do you spell DO NOT ENTER?”
Worrying though these questions could be, the humor of the exchange was the dominant factor, and I love to hear him experiment with recently acquired turns of phrase, often using them in less than appropriate ways…because he is a child! This does bring to mind the many phrases we use in everyday conversation such as…“I don’t mean to be rude, but…” “With all due respect…” “May I be frank…?” “No offense, but…!”
It is widely acknowledged – and highly amusing in a way – that there is a language barrier to negotiate when it comes to turns of phrase used by British people that are open to interpretation, depending on how the listener understands them. The chart below gives some common examples.
So, where do we go from here? I’m certainly not suggesting that we universally adopt a clinical and censored manner of speaking to each other that leaves nothing open to interpretation. How boring and predictable would that be?! Maybe there is something to be said for cleaning up the “qualifiers” and speaking a bit more directly? I mean, I’m not being rude or anything, but sometimes I really would suggest that you use a different tone of voice when you want to ask me a question. With all due respect, I was frankly a bit disappointed that you found it necessary to phrase it like that. I mean it’s a minor point, and I wasn’t hurt or anything, but I thought it would be best to be honest. Don’t worry, I’m not angry about it, and it’s not a big deal at all. No offense, really… I know I’m just being sensitive. Sorry…
Eric Idle says it best…sorry! No, really…