Let’s Get Semantic

semantics cartoon

      FEELING INTELLECTUAL? If yes proceed. If no click anyway.

Language is a given developmental upgrade. How we say something, and what we say may seem plain and straight forward on the surface, but never one to settle for initial appearances, I like to look into the nuances of words and phrases. Semantics is a branch of linguistics associated with deciphering words in a logical sense in an effort to find additional meaning beyond the obvious. So let’s look through the microscope at common phrases:

Just be yourself – A classic, a staple of adults and younger people who have heard the phrase repeated. Often used in situations to reassure someone in order to alleviate anxiety.

Practical use? Zero. If someone is in need of reassurance, being told to be who they are at that moment in time and who they always have been, is like saying, ‘You’re anxious. Now listen, be exactly that same amount of anxious.’ Oh wait, that’s a given as we cannot literally change our minds.

There are plenty of people worse off – Usually said in response to situational complaints. The aim being to make someone feel better about said situation.

Practical use? None. As hollow as the throwaway ‘Everything will be ok’. Knowing there are people hungrier, more tired, more depressed etc is entirely relative and has no bearing on the situation someone is experiencing. Knowing someone is worse off does not affect the situation, because even if you know of someone who really is in a worse position in life, there is no positive to take from that. Ultimately, the mindset the phrase poses is that as long as someone is doing worse than you are, even if you are doing terribly, then you ought to feel better about someones ill fortune in order to boost your mental state.

You wouldn’t understand – Often used flippantly (my yearly adverb, omg!) in response to a back and forth on any number of subjects.

Practical use? Little. Initially, if nothing else, the phrase is presumptuous. If someone says we wouldn’t understand they are questioning our empathy and ability to place ourselves in their position. Youngsters may not have the worldly experience to comprehend issues beyond their years that much is true, however, they are very good at grasping a concept if it is explained. Amongst adults too, the phrase isolates the speaker and commits the sin of not communicating further in order to help someone understand what it is they are saying (or not saying). Even if the breakdown is in discussing why particle physics really is great, ‘You wouldn’t understand’, is a bullshit phrase that helps nobody, and usually someone who says it has something they are not revealing but could be.

Well, I’m not quite sure where that came from. I haven’t even read the first twenty pages (and quit) of a Noam Chomsky book, or deciphered the rhetoric of speeches by George Bush Jr vs Osama Bin Laden for a good eight years. For what it’s worth I believe semantics play a big part in writing fiction allowing us to reveal and express characters emotional states and stages of a story, so I feel I have at least kept this post vaguely writing related. Short story due tomorrow perhaps.

Any phrases you have been exposed to that make zero actual sense? I’d love to hear them.

lion around 2

46 Comments

  1. The phrase “it is what it is” has already been mentioned; that one gets on my nerves too. In England, I heard this a lot: “I’m not being funny, but…” (Is that a common phrase in Scotland as well?) I thought, ‘who the heck thinks they’re being funny anyway?’
    I think certain remarks are made when people (including myself, of course) don’t know what to say, but feel the need to say something.

    1. These bypassed me for some reason 🙂
      Some phrases are definitely filler to fill the gap of so called awkward silences.
      I’m not being funny, but, that is also quite common up here lol It’s one of those weird pointless things that creeps in and people use almost without realising it.

      1. I certainly didn’t think you were intending to be funny. 😑 I can understand teenage girls (and those who just sound like teenagers but are full-fledged adults) saying ‘like’ all the time without realising it, but that’s only one word. ‘I’m not being funny, but’ consists of five words with a total of seven syllables. 😀

    1. Well said. I can’t think of a scenario where that saying would actually be of any use.
      Seems a lot of these empty phrases are said to appease the speaker that they have somehow done something of relevance.

  2. I really enjoyed this read. Thanks for sharing. On another note, I thought I had followed you several months ago. I went looking through my blog list and you were nowhere to be found. I have no idea for how long, but these WP glitches are really getting annoying.

    1. Thanks for saying so.
      And it seems with every update something stops working with WP. Lately in my list of sites, I cant scroll down past the most recent 20 posts….pssshh.
      Cheers for follow 😉

  3. That is so true about all those phrases. They are useless. So many phrases are useless so I guess we have to look for the hopefully good intentions behind them. But sometimes there are none because the person is just being a jerk. 😀

  4. When in doubt ucan go left the same way uread a page. Don’t read too much into it but not too less either.great writing as always! Cheers

  5. Great post, Lion! And sooooo true! I can relate very well to every of these classic advices 😉 Heard the “Just be yourself” phrase exactly this morning before I was going out for a job interview 😉 Ooohh, it did help me soooo good, didn´t it? 😉 I felt instantly totally relaxed and confident to get the job 😉

      1. LOL! 😀 Or everybody would be out of work, like when you say: get well soon – BZZZZ – he/she´s feeling better already and no doctor is needed 😉 Or: Got to hell! 😉
        Ah – the things we could achieve by just saying them… but you´re maybe right, it´s probably for the best that words don´t have that kind of power 😉

      2. Very true, words that powerful and we would all be silenced asap.
        It is amazing the power words do have in their current form, especially when spoken to masses of people.
        G/l with the job interview btw.

      3. Yes, although words aren´t THAT powerful they still can have a sometimes even frightening effect on people, especially in politics etc.

        Thank you 🙂 I think it went alright, but that doesn´t mean anything 😉 will hear from them next week.

  6. A phrase that drives me crazy is “I could care less.” It literally means the speaker has some interest or empathy, although what is typically meant (based on context) is that the speaker has absolutely none. “I COULDN’T care less” is actually what is meant, and while the elision of that meaningful contraction is understandable in speech, it’s inexcusable in writing.

    1. Thats another good one, thanks for dropping by. That contraction really wrecks it.
      There are so many redundant phrases, some enraging, others just totally nonsensical, but apparently not many people care about meaning such is the prevalence of the phrases. And then if we point out the flaw, we become the ahole lol

  7. “Calm down” because that always works. I have a post written about this. Seriously. When has this ever worked? If you are nervous or anxious or angry, when has someone telling you to calm down made you say, “Good idea. I’m completely calm now. Thanks!”

  8. monkey always have annoyance when someone say i know how you feel. monkey always think no you dont. but monkey not say anything because intention of someone who say that probably = good.

  9. “You wouldn’t understand” = “I don’t really understand well enough myself to express what it is we’re failing to talk about”.

    “Believe in yourself / Follow your dreams” = “I’m not going to give you any constructive advice along the lines of work harder & keep plugging away every day of your life and put yourself and your hard-won talent out there; I’m merely going to give you a false impression that you somehow deserve merit and success just because you’ve had a whimsical thought about something”. (Or is that too harsh?)

  10. “I understand your concern…” I use this one myself, or a variant thereof, in the context of customer service. But I make it mean something. If you just say “I understand your concern,” without backing it up, it means NOTHING. When I’m trying to help someone and want to show empathy, I will say something like “I can really see why that would be upsetting. I would be calling in if it happened to me, too. So let’s try and figure out why it happened so we can fix it and prevent it for the future.”

    1. Yeah there has to be some context added to it.
      I have heard it many times with nothing else following it up and it becomes enraging, people hate that someone presumes a stranger with no previous dialogue is all out concerned on their behalf.

  11. All of the actually, basically, honestly – make me lose interest in the conversation. I ll add some more when I think more. These popped up the moment I finished reading your post. Fionn. 😃

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