YOUR HUMBLE NARRATOR went to a fascinating conference at HK City University on international discourse analysis, which is the official academic term for “talking”.
It got me thinking about all the tricks and traps that are hidden in much of what we say to each other.
The following day, waiting for a friend outside a tutorial college, I was approached by a private tutor anxious to relieve me of cash in exchange for his services.
“I teach you speak English good,” he said. “Talk like me.”
“No thank you,” I replied in English. “I don’t speak a word of English and have no desire to learn such a difficult and illogical language.”
“Okay, no problem,” he said, shrugging his shoulders and decamping. Have you noticed that people never notice what language you use to speak to them?
Sometimes people write to ask me for jobs.
One wrote with an offer: “I can be your profreader,” [sic] she wrote.
I replied: “Maybe so. But who would be YOUR profreader?”
People often write to me boasting about their great intellects.
“I have a First Class brian,” is a phrase I have seen twice.
I responded: “Thanks for your letter. Please give your First Class Brian my best wishes and I hope he feels better soon.”
I once got an advertisement from a company called Kenfill who wanted me to buy a piece of writing software that finds errors in “grammer” [sic], “sentances” [sic] and “incorrent” [sic] verbs.
All of the above are examples of self-defeating statements. You encounter these all over the place. A reader sent me a photo from Russia. It showed a large sign outside a tourism centre saying: “Welcom Turist. We Spik Inglish.” [sic]. The sign helpfully lowered the expectations of visitors, who entered and were not particularly surprised to discover the staff spoke no English at all.
Self-defeating statements have a long history. In the fourth century BC, a guy called Eubulides asked a question: “A man says he is lying: is what he says true or false?”
Hmm. Think about it. If it is true, it is false. But if it is false, it is true.
Eubulides’ question has been making people’s heads explode for two thousand four hundred years now, which is pretty impressive for a one-liner.
Talking of puzzling questions, has anyone noticed that you often read about “disgruntled employees” but never about gruntled ones. Are there none? Are you one? I think I am.
More questions: I once bought a thermos for my kids, and explained that it would keep cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. “That’s neat,” one child said. “How does it know?”
Meanwhile, here’s a question for English teachers: “Is a metaphor like a simile?”
And one last thing that is a long-standing puzzle: what do people who make batteries have against the letter B? Batteries come in AA size, AAA size, C size and D size. Is this Alphabetic discrimination?
But going back to self-defeating statements, over the years, I have noticed that males and females tend to make different ones.
Guys say this: "I used to worry that I was apathetic about everything, but then I gave up caring."
Girls say this: "I THINK I'm not indecisive, but I'm not totally sure."
Guys say this: "Just because I'm smarter than other people, it doesn't mean I'm arrogant."
Girls say this: "I'm going to give up procrastinating, from next week."
Warning: the following question may really cause your head to explode. Thinking about it disabled my entire cerebral cortex for hours. I had to reboot my brainular system with four cups of espresso. Read it at your own risk.
“Is the answer to this question no?”