Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why Do People Say...

I always find the English language an interesting creature to study - especially under the literal lens. Here is an observation I made only recently, although I've encountered this phrasing many a-time:

"That's not a bad idea."

My boss told me the other day that an idea I had wasn't bad. The inflection in his voice added a little something to the statement - it sounded almost like surprise.

So. What we have established is that my idea was not bad, and the fact that I had an idea that wasn't bad is a surprise to those I work with.

I know that this is not the message my boss was trying to convey. I know that (at least in this case) my boss believed my idea was not ONLY "not bad," it was good. So why not just opt for the affirmative: "good idea"? That would be better for morale if you have employees who dissect your statements and take them literally.

But seriously.

Why do people even say, "Not too bad" or similarly backhanded compliments. I would have to do some research on this, but I have a theory. Whoever first uttered these words probably did so at a time in history when paying compliments seemed to show a sign of weakness. This sort of philosophy still has some weight in small towns where "the women are strong and the men are good looking." Strong, silent types often have farms, milk cows, drive tractors and say, "Not too bad."


trish t. said...

I have my own theory on this: I think it is because people feel the need to guard themselves by being vague. If you are vague, you are not responsible. Using your example: if your boss says "it isn't a bad idea," that doesn't necessarily mean he believes it is a good idea in the unlikely event that your idea tanks, he isn't responsible because he never gave it a solely positive affirmation.

In other words, people suck everywhere, every day, and they don't always want to be responsible for sucking. Hence, the creation of the vague "not a bad idea" comment and others of that nature.

trish t. said...

I'm liking the new concept for your blog. :)