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Here’s “The” Thing

A while back, Joy Tanksley wrote a wonderful guest post here called Change Your Language, Change Your Life. I recommend you read it if you haven’t, but here are the Cliff’s Notes:

The words we use are powerful and there is meaning in the words we choose.

I was reminded of this recently during what I thought was a very casual conversation with an old friend from work. She asked how I was doing. I said, “Well, here’s the thing..”

She slapped her hand on the table and said “No! You sound just like every old boyfriend I ever had!”

I had no idea what she was talking about. I told her so.

“Okay,” she said, “When you say, ‘Here’s the thing,’ what I hear is you saying ‘Here’s the only thing that matters.'”

“What would you suggest?” I asked.

“Maybe ‘Here’s a thing.'”

I don’t know if she was over-sensitive, I was insensitive, or whether she had just picked some bad boyfriends. What I do know is that until that point, I’d never given a thought to the phrase “Here’s the thing.” They were “just” words, something I say a lot and never think of.

Ever.

But she did! She had obviously spent plenty of time thinking it over, and it obviously irks her every time she hears it.

For the rest of the day, I really tried to pay attention to what I was saying. Just to take a closer look at the things I say and what they might mean to someone else. And to figure out who I might be annoying accidentally.

What do you think? Are there seemingly casual phrases you hear that bother you? Phrases you use that might drive someone into a blinding rage to the point where they slap a poor defenseless table?

I often get accused of over-thinking things. I think I’m probably more prone to under-thinking.

I hate the word “luscious,” but I can’t come up with anything else right now that really sets me off.

Josh

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  • Farnoosh May 14, 2010, 4:06 am

    Well, she was definitely a little sensitive but gosh there are phrases I cannot stand because they are either over-used or have lost meaning. Being careful about what we say is very important not just for the sake of others but also for our own mood. In fact, turning on a listening mode to our self is kinda cool. It seems like you did that after being yelled at :)! Just teasing. A good idea overall.

  • Michele Nicholls May 14, 2010, 4:09 am

    Ever heard of Neuro Linguistic Programming? The words you think in are conditioned, and they , in turn, condition who you think you are, scary, eh? The more you become aware of the language of your thoughts, the more control you have over who you are ;oD Simple! (in theory, anyway!)

  • Srinivas Rao May 14, 2010, 9:24 am

    Josh,

    I think that it’s one of those things that happens when we link one thing up with another. It’s our pavlovian response mechanism that gets triggered. Personally, I don’t know of any that I have off the top of my head, but I’m sure there must be some there that i don’t know about.

  • Joy Tanksley May 14, 2010, 9:40 am

    Hmmm… I say “here’s the thing” a lot, and I’ve never thought about it in this way. But I think your friend is right. Another one that I’m wondering about now is, “Bottom line…” I think it might be similiar to “here’s the thing”.

    It’s easy to say that these speech patterns are just meaningless habits, but I think habits are born out of our beliefs. And our beliefs definitely matter.

    Oh, and I recently used the word “luscious” to describe my thighs. I’m guessing you are really not okay with that, huh?

  • Casey May 14, 2010, 10:46 am

    Words and expressions I don’t like:

    Ironical – This word is useless. Ironic is already an adjective why extend the word with a suffix like al?

    No offense – This one is just a backhanded way of warning someone that the next phrase is offensive. It tries to excuse the person from what they are saying but really it just underlines the statement they are about to make.

    There are a bunch more.

    Words and expressions I should use less:

    “Hell of” – this is an expression I can’t get out of my vocabulary. There’s a lot of slang in there that doesn’t do me any good.

    like – This one is especially bad because it doesn’t actually help me say anything. I find when I tell a story I almost can’t make myself say “he said …” Instead I always say “he was like…” this gives me one more word to say every time I am telling a story. It also makes the story sound like its being told by a kid. There a million ways that word stands in my way. But that will have to do for now.

    Good post Josh

  • Jeffrey Tang May 14, 2010, 12:28 pm

    As a reader and a writer, I wholeheartedly agree about the importance of the words we use. At the same time, there’s a danger in spending too much time trying to live in other people’s heads and trying to divine what they think of every turn of phrase.

    “A” thing versus “the” thing? Perhaps an important detail if you’re writing a work of high prose, but in a casual conversation, I don’t think there’s that much value in trying to second-guess yourself (or the other person) and read excessive meaning into every little linguistic detail. That just leads to stilted conversation and general awkwardness. “She’s blinking a lot. Is that bad? She just used ‘the’ instead of ‘a’ – is she closed minded?”

    When we write conversations, we rarely imitate the exact way people speak (otherwise we’d end up with a bunch of, like, repeat – you know what I mean – but, yeah?), and that’s for a reason.

    Tact? Yes. Sensitivity? Yes. But while we can learn to not give offense, it’s futile to try and stop other people from taking offense.

  • ami May 14, 2010, 4:25 pm

    So, here’s the thing . . . 😉

    I say that all the time. I’m always *like* “here’s the thing, y’know?”

    the here’s the thing thing doesnt bother me. The ‘like’ thing bothers me a lot. But I just can’t stop!

    Whatever. (hate that one too – but I can’t help myself!!) Someone help me.

  • K.sol May 14, 2010, 4:37 pm

    I do have phrases that set me off, based on past history. Any variation of “You don’t want that,” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.” If you think it’s a bad idea, I’ll hear you out, but I find it really disrespectful to tell someone else what they think or feel.

  • Daniel O'Connor May 14, 2010, 8:50 pm

    This one may be a little over the top but it illustrates how we build relationships to words in our brain.

    For most of my life if was talking about getting a good deal from a car dealer or whatever, I would say “I jewed him down or ” I will jew him down”.

    I know it is hard to believe but I never made the connection with what I was saying with Jewish people or the Jewish religion.

    Finally, only a few years ago, a friend of mine (who happens to be Jewish) called me on it.

    He said that while he knew me well enough to know that I meant nothing by the phrase it irritated him every time he heard me say it.

    Even then I looked at him with a blank stare not comprehending why it was irritating to him.

    Finally my brain made the connection and I was simply mortified at what I had been saying all those years and to whom I might have said it.

    He is just sadistic enough to get a lot of satisfaction from the look that was on my face when it all came together for me.