I have to confess to a previous addiction to a linguistic device that now leaves me squirming every time I hear it – the use of an emphatic word or phrase (or from a usage point of view, an interjection of some kind) in front of a statement that doesn’t really need emphasis.
My favorite emphatic “starter” during my addiction phase was “honestly” – I would preface things that I felt were REALLY important and perhaps even revelatory with that word. The problem with using it was shown to me very directly by one of my bosses – he had asked me about my opinion on something, and I said “honestly sir, I think we need to go in such-and-such a direction”, to which he replied, “HONESTLY? What do you think we’re running around here, a boy scout troop”? Funny, yes (and also effective).
Unfortunately, that didn’t cure me, so the next time I used it my boss took a harder line – “so, my dear boy, are you telling me the only time you are honest with me is when you say “honestly”?” Ouch.
Think about it- how many times do you hear someone use that word (or its sister, “frankly“)? Shouldn’t candor be present in every word we utter? I realized that by doing this I was unwittingly diminishing 95% of everything else I was saying, or at worst putting the credibility of these “unprefaced” statements in doubt to the discerning listener.
Eventually I was cured of the “honestly” problem, but I still had an issue with another tricky little word – “look“. Did you ever notice when someone really, really wants to make an assertive point they preface it with “look”? Like, “Look, I really don’t think we should do this”. I caught myself doing this more frequently when I felt I was being put on the defensive and really needed to make a point. However, when you step back and actually listen to the words as they flow out the “look” really doesn’t have the intended effect, and instead seems “whiny” and even borderline insulting (i.e. “you weren’t “looking” at me before, so look at me now“).
I heard the “look” preface used the other day by someone who also added “here’s the deal”. That reminded me of Ross Perot when he ran for President in 1992 (except he used “see” instead of “look”). That’s double trouble, since to me it also comes off as condescending. Picture Perot saying “see, here’s the deal” during that campaign (like when he was talking about fixing the economy) and you’ll understand what I mean.
The best solution to all of this is to simply refrain from the preface, and just put your thought or opinion right out there – straight, no chaser. While I still do let a “look” or “honestly” slip out every now and then, most of the time I can catch myself and “edit” the word out before I speak. It makes effective communication that much easier, and clearer.