Sometimes I really think that people don’t understand the word “but”. I mean, I’m not being all grammar police here; it’s what they’re doing, or their intentions that bug the crap out of me. Mostly because using “but” the way that bothers me means that the person in question is being: insincere, lazy or nonsensical. And for an honest-to-a-fault, efficiency -loving, hardworking person – it’s all of the things I hate.
Here are the two examples of how people use “but” that totally gets to me:
I don’t mean to sound like X, but…
Why are you telling me this? If you really had a problem sounding like X, and making the effort to let me know, then it would be just as easy to reword or tweak your response so you don’t sound like X. Because it’s not about what you’re saying, but in your delivery. For example, your friend is wearing something hideous. Why would you say: “Michael, I don’t mean to sound like a bitch, but someone just puked rainbows all over you,” – I mean really? A person can just tell me it looks like someone puked rainbows all over me. They may sound like a bitch, but oh well. And if they don’t want to sound like one they could say, “Michael that outfit is pretty out there with all the color. Maybe something a little less loud would be better.”
This isn’t about trying to get people to be less blunt or kinder with their words, but it drives me crazy when they pretend to care. If you’re a bitch own it and don’t apologize for it. If you don’t want to be a bitch, take the time to work on your delivery. Your message shouldn’t have to change, just the way you present it.
A while back I was in a workshop, and a peer was not a fan of my writing. Every piece of critique she issued was harsh, almost to a point of no longer being constructive. And she started every statement with, “I don’t mean to sound callous, but”. Whatever followed after that bothered me less than this not-really-an-apology apology. It was like a disclaimer, but if she bothered to realize she was being callous and bothered to mention it, then why didn’t she bother to make her response just as honest, without being callous?
I’m a person that tries to be understanding, kind and diplomatic, but I am also pretty blunt. I don’t like small talk. And when it comes to people telling me things, whether it is some sort of criticism or just bad news, I’m a “rip the bandaid off” kind of person. Just tell me. No intro, no disclaimers, no build up. Just say it. When it comes to my writing, I always tell people to tear it up. I like seeing red, I like pages of notes, however critical, because I want to be the best, my best. But then there are petty remarks and things and people act like “they don’t mean to be” but they totally do. Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t, because the only excuse they have is not knowing how they come across, but such statements as, “I don’t mean to be X, but” rob them of this excuse. Um yes, you totally meant to be X.
And then there is the second use that drives me wild:
I’m sorry, but…
Um no, you’re not. It doesn’t matter what you say as soon as you utter that word. You are now officially playing the blame game and not taking any personal accountability that is the very foundation of being “sorry”. Please go back, and try again.
Whenever someone apologizes and uses the word “but” it no longer matters. The “but” negates everything that came before and the apology is no longer just words, because the words in said apology are worthless, stripped of their power by one powerful, sneaky or just easily confused word: But.
Sometimes when my husband apologizes he uses the word “but”. And if he does, he knows to start over. When I apologize, I don’t say “but” or anything else along those lines. If I lose my cool and yell, even if my anger is completely and utterly justified, it’s still on me. I yelled. I need to do better to not yell. I can be angry, justified or not, in more productive ways. The end.
I’m sorry if I am coming across as a Butt, but people need to know how they’re using the word “but” wrong. Or they are totally aware and being passive-aggressive. And did you see what I did there with my apology? Yeah, because I’m not really sorry if I am coming across as a Butt. Just wanted you to know! 😛