Don’t waste your breath


January 18, 2012 by Kristen

As a lover of language, words, and hearing myself talk, I’ve noticed that as humans we say a lot of things that really mean nothing. We use trite phrases more than we realize. I’ve compiled some of those “wasted-breath” phrases and proposed some alternatives.

1. There is a monsoon outside and you offer the phrase, “stay dry!” to  your companion as he exits the warm coffee shop without an umbrella.
This is unhelpful because:
a. That is such an obvious goal. If it wasn’t raining, would you shout, “stay alive!” in lieu of a normal goodbye? No. It’ s a given.
b. If he doesn’t have an umbrella, galoshes, or isn’t encapsulated in a plastic bubble, there is no hope of staying dry. Your well wishes do nothing to change this fact.
I propose the following alternatives:
a. Instead of exclaiming: “stay dry!” offer your friend your umbrella.
b. If you do not have an umbrella to spare, or you are simply too selfish to give up your own, go for the realistic approach: “You are going to get soaked. That sucks. Drowned rat isn’t a good look for anyone. Godspeed!”

2. You see someone you sorta-know-but-not-really, but you’re unfortunately not enough of strangers to completely ignore them, so you offer a tentative, “Hi. How are you?”
This is a problem because:
a. You don’t really care how they are. You’re just doing what you think is polite and less awkward than a complete shunning.
b. What if the person launches into a thorough explanation of how they are? Hey, you asked!
c. It’s a bit inconsiderate of you to ask without really caring about the explanation. Some pseudo-friend you are. Rude.
I propose the following alternatives:
a. Do the Little Rascals wave. Not familiar? Let me help you. Lift your right hand hand and place your wrist beneath your chin. Now wiggle your fingers while smirking, with crazy eyes if you are able to do so. I guarantee the person will shuffle right along.
b.  Say, “Hello. How are you?” in an accent that isn’t your own. You’ll likely still have to engage in the conversation, but it will be far more entertaining for both parties.
c.  Channel the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. Pull out your watch and frantically murmur, “I’m late. I’m late. For a very important date. No time to say hello–goodbye!” Wow. I didn’t even need to look that up. Sad.
d. Warmly say hello and only ask how the person is if you genuinely care. Perhaps try to work on actually caring?

3. Someone has just offered you an insincere, “How are you?” and you reply with, “Good, you?”
This is poor because:
a. Lies. You sit on a throne of lies! You are wearing sweat pants tucked into Ugg boots and there’s peanut butter in your hair. You are not good. Or your standard of “good” has reached a pitiful low.
b.  That is the worst grammar of my life. You are never good. Well, perhaps. Never good.
c. You don’t care how they are. We’ve covered this.
I propose the following alternatives:
a. Have a quick spiel (can we talk about how weird that word is?) prepared for such occasions: “Just stockpiling canned goods and bottled water for the upcoming apocalypse!” “Finished my application for the upcoming season of The Bachelorette, so expect a Save-the-Date this time next year!” “Been eating Activia and taking my probiotics, so my digestive system and I are very happy!”
b. Just say, “I’m doing well,” and leave it at at that.
c. Instead of actually answering the question, turn it around on them with:  “What it do?” or “What’s good?”  How can someone answer that question? Seriously. How? Why do people say such things?!

What other meaningless phrases do you use on the daily? 


7 thoughts on “Don’t waste your breath

  1. Knox McCoy says:

    “There is a monsoon outside and you offer the phrase, “stay dry!” to your companion…”

    I always do this and people always look at me like, “DURR thanks, Captain. Any other sage advice?” But I just keep doing it.

  2. Since I just started working at the university I recently graduated from, people recognize me and ask, “How’s work?” I think this falls into the same category as “How are you?” I doubt they really want to hear about the university’s diversity efforts or our upcoming plans for celebrating Chinese New Year and Black History Month or how we can plan to help students who are dealing with racial identity crisis cope. Then again, maybe they do, but they just don’t have time.

  3. G Fresh says:

    “Let’s do coffee sometime.”—Not proud of it, but there it is. 🙂

  4. asoulwalker says:

    1) I would never give this one up. Mocking humour is an essential part of the love language I offer to the world. I won’t let the world down.

    2) I never ask people how they are unless I have both the time and the desire to know. Period. I use a lot of strait, “hello”‘s (how’s that for an awkward and probably completely wrong construction with punctuation…)

    3) Three-a is hilarious. Also, I rarely answer this question ever… and never in a group. So you don’t have to worry about fake fines coming from my mouth (unless there is a connection to number one, of course).

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