I’m not trying to be smart, but I’m just saying…

I love studying language and languages. Language is a wonderful tool to master our every-day communication; and since we don’t always agree with one another, language provides us with the ability to say one thing whilst we mean quite the opposite.

• “I don’t mean to patronise you, but…” I think it is a turkish proverb that goes along the lines of: “If there is a “but” in a message, everything that comes before it is worthless.” So true, so true.
This was recently demonstrated by a man who approached me as I was standing at a crossroads patiently waiting for the signal from the traffic lights. “I don’t mean to patronise you, but would you like a hand crossing the road?” I know, that was very nice of him but not well thought through. Although I am blind I got to that place somehow without help. I stood at the pedestrian crossing facing in the correct direction. I did not look in any way as if I was looking for help. So what does the above statement imply? “I don’t mean to patronise you, but I’ll do it anyway.” If you don’t want to patronise me then don’t patronise me, please!

• “I’m not trying to be smart.” Have you ever noticed that this statement is one of the best indicators that there is a smart comment around the corner?

• “I’m just saying!” If we feel that we have to emphasise a previous illocutionary act, i.e. we have to say that we were saying something, would it perhaps be wise to check whether the original message had any content? If it had, our opposite would have heard and considered it.

• “I was only trying to help!” This is an easy one to interpret. The opposite of “helping” is “trying to help”. The louder a person shouts: “I was only trying to help!”, the less helpful they actually were.
they would not have had to make clear that they had the intention to help, otherwise.


2 thoughts on “I’m not trying to be smart, but I’m just saying…

  1. I think you are pretty hard on people here. Not every statement is as black or white as you make it seem.
    “I don’t mean to patronise you, but would you like a hand crossing the road?” I don’t like to view this statement as patronising. Sighted people often just don’t notice sounds around them, so he might not have known the traffic light has an audible signal. Of course he could have just asked you if you wanted his help, but the first part of the statement could either mean that he was unsure about if he should offer help, or that he found it important to let you know that he regarded you as quite capable of what you needed to do. It doesn’t necessarily mean he was patronising, unless his voice indicated it. Still, being capable doesn’t mean that help is never welcome, because now and then it can make things a bit easier. And how should he have known what you wanted in your situation?
    You are male. Have you ever opened a door for a woman, or offered to carry her suitcase? I bet you have. Did you think she was incapable of doing it herself? Probably not, but you just wanted to do something polite or kind.
    I share your frustration; sometimes I am offered help when I don’t need it and when I just want to be left alone because I am thinking about something. But as long as the people offering help don’t sound or behave patronisingly, I prefer to forget about these incidents when they have happened, because not getting worked up about them and assuming good intentions makes my reality a more pleasant one.

    1. Good point. Of course, I have carried suitcases and shopping bags and have opened doors for people because I just felt like being nice to them. Perhaps it was not a good example to portray how the little word “but” can cancel out whatever comes before it. 😉 I know I should have chosen this better.

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