With all due respect . .
February 6, 2019 2:35 PM   Subscribe

What do you mean? A lot of people in general, and almost all of those on the autism spectrum, have trouble with social interactions where people don't say what they mean. Here is a useful guide . . .
posted by dangerousdan (119 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
Feel free to share them in the comments

Sometimes people do not say what they mean because they themselves do not know what they mean.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:41 PM on February 6 [25 favorites]


Impossible to not think of this Pinker talk, where (about half-way in) he discusses the linguistic contortions we go through while navigating power structures, politeness, and plausible deniability. Pull quote- "Language is a way of negotiating relationships."
posted by es_de_bah at 2:42 PM on February 6 [17 favorites]


There is a simple answer to #26. I learned it from S. Bear Bergman, but I forget in which book:

"Does this make me look fat?"

They look fine: "You look great. I love how you look in that." Or, "No, of course not." (Depends on how fraught "fat" is for this person.)

Garment is unflattering: "The cut of that garment is not very good." Sometimes clothes are cut weird and that's a fact.

In both cases, we are discussing the garment, not the person.
posted by blnkfrnk at 3:03 PM on February 6 [28 favorites]


Are these user-submitted? I like how the tone is literally "What people mean" instead of "Snarky second readings" for almost all of them, but No. 19 ("I'm not racist, but..."), No. 24 ("Congratulations, you are the 1,000,000th visitor!"), and No. 26 ("Does this make me look fat?") are more general Internet-snark, and feel like they were written by different people.
posted by Bugbread at 3:07 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


there's a bit of a "people are so fake amirite" editorial slant to this; as a person who uses a fair amount of figurative language, I'm not sure this would be helpful to anyone misunderstanding my intentions.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:08 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


I can't say for sure what the correct answer will be to "Do these pants make me look fat?" because it's going to vary by situation, relationship, pants etc.

But I can say, without fear of contradiction, that the most incorrect answer, regardless of other factors, is: "It's not the pants."
posted by The Bellman at 3:09 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


When people say: it’s not actually that bad.

They mean: This is the best thing ever!


No, they really don’t.
posted by Segundus at 3:46 PM on February 6 [36 favorites]


Unless the right answer for this person and situation is “hell yeah you look thicc”
posted by a halcyon day at 3:47 PM on February 6 [31 favorites]


Man, wait til this guy finds out that, as Thor wisely said, "all words are made up."
posted by praemunire at 3:57 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. If the main thing you want to add to the thread is how annoyed you are at people you perceive to be autistic, go ahead and skip right along to the next thread instead.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:58 PM on February 6 [32 favorites]


I have been wondering lately about the line between “I didn’t expres myself clearly” and “You should have picked up my meaning even though it was the opposite of what I said”. I don’t think that these occurrences are limited to people on the autism spectrum, right?
posted by bleep at 4:22 PM on February 6 [13 favorites]


Like, neutotypical people can’t read minds either and if sometimes we expect each other to it’s more because we’re all trapped a self-centered universe and forget that other people don’t have full access to our thoughts all the time.
posted by bleep at 4:24 PM on February 6 [19 favorites]


I'm not on the spectrum or however you say it but growing up I was always completely thrown by social niceties. It was a real milestone when I could say "nice to meet you" without feeling really really uncomfortable.

I also find a difference, and it might be class might be something else, between how I communicate with different friends or acquaintances with whom I have the same level of intimacy. What for some is honesty for others is rude. What for some is unpleasantly familiar for others is just how you talk.
posted by Pembquist at 4:54 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Man, wait til this guy finds out that, as Thor wisely said, "all words are made up."

I have ALWAYS loved Thor (since, er, 1979?) and that line made me fall even harder. Oh, my linguistical heart!
posted by greermahoney at 5:12 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


Also, I’m studying politeness theory right now, so this is relevant to my interests, as they say.
posted by greermahoney at 5:13 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately, the general population has a peculiar tradition of using words that don’t match their thoughts. Sometimes they are even known to say the complete opposite of what they mean (even in a non-sarcastic sense), with the expectation on us to interpret the thoughts in their head, rather than the words from their mouth.
I realize that this is explicitly a humor piece by someone on the spectrum, but if it's also intended to help people understand what's going on in conversations then this introduction isn't very good. It's not that these examples of speech that neurotypical people might use don't match their thoughts or are the opposite of what they mean, it's that there's another layer of meaning being expressed along with the literal words, an emotional or contextual layer that is precisely what those on the spectrum have trouble with.
posted by Sangermaine at 5:14 PM on February 6 [19 favorites]


“I’ll be there in a minute.”
“I’ll be there somewhere between 30 seconds and 10 minutes from now.”



I was recently told by a someone from Wales that “in a minute” there means “sometime later, but not now.” So... that 30 seconds to 10 minutes isn’t near a long enough window.
posted by greermahoney at 5:39 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Oh man, #13 took so long to sink in for me. I still don't understand it, but I accept when people say they want to hang out one-on-one sometime, they usually don't actually mean it. I'm still working on figuring out when they mean it and when they don't. Will let you know.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:50 PM on February 6 [13 favorites]


It's not that these examples of speech that neurotypical people might use don't match their thoughts or are the opposite of what they mean, it's that there's another layer of meaning being expressed along with the literal words, an emotional or contextual layer that is precisely what those on the spectrum have trouble with.

Huh?

If you say "I'll be there in a minute", and you don't literally mean "I'll be there in exactly sixty seconds", then yes – there is a mismatch between your speech and your actual meaning.

Ditto if you ask "how are you?" when you don't actually want to know. Of if you say "we must go out for a drink sometime", with zero intent of actually doing so.

If you just mean to say "there's more to speech than the literal meaning of the words", then you've simply restated the article's original point – not disproven it.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:55 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Also I still just constitutionally can't respond to "How's it going?" or "What's up?" without giving at least a nominal answer to the question. Apparently the socially appropriate response is to literally just repeat the question back, but je refuse.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:01 PM on February 6 [13 favorites]


Sorry about the mess

I was amused by this one because yeah, a lot of people say this when their house is way neater than mine has ever been. But also, when I say this, what I actually mean is, "Sorry about the mess even though I just spent hours cleaning and this is the neatest my living space/car/office will ever be, and the second you leave, it's all going to descend into chaos again" but I may be an outlier.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:04 PM on February 6 [29 favorites]


Wow, a figurative language explainer. Haven’t seen one of these for a minute
posted by infinitewindow at 6:12 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Also I still just constitutionally can't respond to "How's it going?" or "What's up?" without giving at least a nominal answer to the question. Apparently the socially appropriate response is to literally just repeat the question back, but je refuse.

I can't stand this convention. And I always feel like a rude oaf because I am so bad at the whole "how are you?" "Fine, how are you?" back and forth dance, and also the whole "have a good day" thing. I've gotten pretty good at parroting back this kind of thing, but it has never felt anything but super awkward to me. Is this something people just naturally learn how to do? Do parents teach this to their kids? I've always wondered, because I feel like I missed some major life lesson that everyone else was just born knowing.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:14 PM on February 6 [11 favorites]


I visit people's houses for work and they constantly apologize for how messy their homes are. It is totally unrelated to the actual messiness level. It's one area where I feel happy to be able to set people at their ease. I've made reassuring people about their housekeeping into almost an art form. Here's the secret:

Fucking everybody's house is messy unless they can afford to pay for regular cleaning. The end.

Are you not rich? Like, actual upper-class rich? Then your house is messy and so are all of your neighbors'. Seriously. If you visit a neighbor's house and it isn't messy it's because they cleaned it specially for you, probably mostly by pushing the worst of the clutter into the corners. Maybe there are exceptions, probably there are middle-class folks who keep a neat house, but it's fucking rare.

Your house is messy, my house is messy, everybody's house is messy. Relax. It's fine. You're fine.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:14 PM on February 6 [51 favorites]


I always interpreted "Sorry about the mess" as meaning "I planned to have the place spic and span for guests, so I've been working really hard to tidy up, and it's a lot better than it was, but it's nowhere as clean as I'd intended it to be, so it still looks messy to me, just less messy. Sorry I wasn't able to make it perfect for you."
posted by Bugbread at 6:20 PM on February 6 [50 favorites]


I would feel bad eating the last potato if it turned out that someone else wanted it. If I ask you if you want the last potato, I actually want to know if you want the last potato.

Is that just me? I eat a lot of potatoes.
posted by pompomtom at 6:21 PM on February 6 [20 favorites]


Well, it's both. "I'd like to eat this last potato, but if someone else also wanted to eat it, and I ate it instead of them, I'd feel bad. If someone else wants it, I'd rather they had it than me, but if nobody else wants it, I'd like to have it."
posted by Bugbread at 6:23 PM on February 6 [27 favorites]


Agreed. If you want the last potato, please say so. I would feel bad if I ate it without checking if you wanted it. I admit I might resent you slightly if you do take it. But only for a second.

If I ask you if the seat next to you is free, that is a genuine question. If it is free, yes, I do want you to move your bag, but if you're saving it for someone, that's usually totally fine, I'll find somewhere else.
posted by misfish at 6:26 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Is this something people just naturally learn how to do? Do parents teach this to their kids?
I'm right there with you on this, (well not literally.) Nobody taught me, I just gritted my teeth and started doing it and soon realized nobody thought anything of it. It is sort of like the time I tried out a vaguely southern accent in Texas. It would have been nice though if an adult had explained to me that these little empty social niceties are just there to make people feel comfortable and not some test of my interestingness or curiosity.
posted by Pembquist at 6:30 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Well, it's both. "I'd like to eat this last potato, but if someone else also wanted to eat it, and I ate it instead of them, I'd feel bad. If someone else wants it, I'd rather they had it than me, but if nobody else wants it, I'd like to have it."

Yeah, but sometimes it’s “I really want to get this plate off the table, so can you help with that?”
Or is that just me that gets antsy about almost but not quite completely cleared dishes that I cannot stack and remove?
posted by greermahoney at 6:40 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


When I say "sorry about the mess" it means "yes that clutter in the living room is from our holiday party two months ago, and also I haven't installed the blind in the third kitchen window, and also don't mind the hole in the ceiling the plumber left there, it is only four months old, we're just about to patch it."
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:43 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


Totally normal, grumpybear. I wouldn't bat an eye.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:45 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Of course, if it's the last potato ever, then I do want it....
posted by pompomtom at 6:51 PM on February 6 [8 favorites]


there's a bit of a "people are so fake amirite" editorial slant to this; as a person who uses a fair amount of figurative language, I'm not sure this would be helpful to anyone misunderstanding my intentions.

Yeah I'm autistic and that grated on me a little. Like, I use all this figurative language because neurotypicals are offended if I don't--because being straightforward is seen as being demanding or ignoring their feelings, which, like... isn't necessarily an incorrect assumption? If you don't make any acknowledgement of the other person's wants and feelings and just state what you want, it comes across as selfish. Hence, "Is anyone sitting here?" rather than "Move your bag so I can sit here," and "It might be a good idea to do this" instead of "I'd like you to do this." It's basically adding a caveat of 'IMHO/if that's okay.' I feel like autistic people are less offended by straightforward requests? I mean, maybe it's a theory of mind thing--I care about your thoughts and feelings, so I assume you care about mine even if you don't say it.*

Also, these phrases are all fairly common and stable. Once you learn them (and it does take time, and it sucks that no one teaches you!) it's pretty simple to be like, okay, x = y. What I struggle with much more is when people say something nonsensical and the joke is that it's nonsensical but because it's nonsensical I'm just confused until they start laughing (e.g.: my boss saying "I'll get my intern on that" to an idea of mine, when I was the only intern she had; stranger in the hallway saying "would you bring in my groceries too?"...). There's no guidebook for that, because people keep coming up with new and more nonsensical 'jokes'...

*A... actually... that would... that would explain a lot... about my relationships... and being taken advantage of...............
posted by brook horse at 6:54 PM on February 6 [23 favorites]


Also I still just constitutionally can't respond to "How's it going?" or "What's up?" without giving at least a nominal answer to the question. Apparently the socially appropriate response is to literally just repeat the question back, but je refuse.


There may be regional or social-group variations. In my circles, it would be unusual to respond to "How are you?" with "How are you?" or "What's up?" with "What's up?" -- rather, the standard response would be "Fine, how are you?" and "Not much, what's up with you?" respectively -- in other words, giving a nominal answer to the question, as you do, is the convention. Maybe you should move to Wisconsin!
posted by escabeche at 6:55 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


There is a simple answer to #26. I learned it from Jon Carroll:
Q: Does this make me look fat?
A: No. The colour goes really nicely with your eyes. [Go RIGHT back to reading the newspaper.]
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:55 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Anyway, I liked this piece -- so often these things turn into "why do other people do/say/see things so wrong wrong wrong" while this one is more "people are different about stuff and it can be good to build explicit mechanisms for reducing friction caused by those differences."
posted by escabeche at 6:56 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but sometimes it’s “I really want to get this plate off the table, so can you help with that?”

Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about that.

Probably needs a bit of a flowchart with questions like "Does space need to be made on the table for more dishes?" "Is the person asking the question also the person who will be doing the dishes?" "Does the person asking the question seem to really be enjoying those potatoes?"
posted by Bugbread at 6:58 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


>> When people say: it’s not actually that bad.
>> They mean: This is the best thing ever!
> No, they really don’t.

Yeah, is this a regional saying? I've only heard people say this literally in response to like "how's the line at that DMV branch?" or "is your house ok after the leak?"

> I'm on my way...

I was thinking about this one the other day. Cellphones made it confusing, I think. If I say "I'm on my way" on a landline it clearly just means I'm getting ready to come over, but in a text it's ambiguous.
posted by smelendez at 6:58 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, but sometimes it’s “I really want to get this plate off the table, so can you help with that?”

Oh, yeah, I'd forgotten about that.

Probably needs a bit of a flowchart with questions like "Does space need to be made on the table for more dishes?" "Is the person asking the question also the person who will be doing the dishes?" "Does the person asking the question seem to really be enjoying those potatoes?"


This is why I ask the variant "who wants this last potato?" or imperiously demand "someone eat this last potato" in such situations.
posted by eviemath at 7:06 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


A lot of times, for me, "sorry about the mess" really means "I feel that I have not put enough effort into making this place presentable for you and for that I apologize." Sometimes it also means "I'm sorry if you find a spot I missed that reveals my true slovenly nature that we both know exists, but whose reality I didn't really want you to have to confront head-on." I know other people will usually be understanding, and to some extent that's besides the point.
posted by chrominance at 7:09 PM on February 6 [10 favorites]


Look, if I'm not stepping in dog poop inside the house, you're doing alright.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:14 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I'm on the spectrum and used to have problems with some of these. Still do, sometimes. I find the phrase "do you want me answer honestly or as a friend?" helps a lot.

I learned with my ex wife that "the garbage sure looks full" means "I want you to take out the garbage, or I will sulk and be angry".

I also found that "I am not sleeping with Greg, don't be stupid" means that she is totally sleeping with Greg.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:16 PM on February 6 [53 favorites]


When people say "I love you"
What they mean is "I love you"


Awww, very cute, but sometimes "I love you" means "I just heard about you doing something out-of-the-ordinary and I'm slightly jealous that you do out-of-the-ordinary things", like "You named your twins Castor and Pollux? I love you."
posted by 23skidoo at 7:17 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


Sometimes it means, "If you leave me, it will destroy me and I will become literally homeless and then die and it will be all your fault."

Sometimes it means, "What I just did to you wasn't abuse and you have to forgive me now."

It's actually pretty complicated.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:24 PM on February 6 [22 favorites]


"I have been wondering lately about the line between “I didn’t expres myself clearly” and “You should have picked up my meaning even though it was the opposite of what I said”. I don’t think that these occurrences are limited to people on the autism spectrum, right?"

I have a child on the ASD spectrum, AND ALSO I'm midwestern (American), which means that many things are expressed very indirectly in order to allow the counterparty in the conversation to pick up on it and save face. So it's really unusual for me to give a direct no in a social situation, but instead to sidestep and make a polite counteroffer, until the other person and I though sidestepping and implying come to an agreement we're both happy with where nobody had to say no to anything and everyone got to show great concern for each other. But my husband is NOT midwestern and does not understand this mode of communication at all. So when my best friend and I get rolling (she's painfully Minnesotan), he is very confused.

"Do you guys want to drop by on Sunday for pizza for lunch?"
"Oh, we'd love to! But I don't think it will work with church!" says my best friend.
"Well isn't church over by 11?" asks my husband. "We'll do pizza at noon!"
And then my best friend feels so awkward she has to physically turn her body at an oblique angle, because what she meant by "I don't think it will work with church" was "I'm fucking exhausted from this shitty week at work and have 600 things to do at home and I love you but I just can NOT with pizza on Sunday." But instead she says, "Gosh, I think $husband has to take the car in at 12 and the kids need naps."
"Well I'll follow him to the dealer and bring him back for pizza, and the kids can nap in our pack 'n' play!" my problem-solving husband offers brightly, and me and my best friend turn our bodies MORE oblique because we are JUST DYING at this INCREDIBLE LEVEL OF SOCIAL PRESSURE WHERE HE IS TRYING TO FORCE US TO SAY NO.

Whereas with me if she said "I don't think it'll work with church" I'd make an open counteroffer of like, "Do you think dinner would work better, or should we figure something out next week when things are calmer?" and she'd say, "We just have so much on Sunday, do you have anything open midweek?" and we'd keep asking each other open questions and offering small tidbits of polite information until we found a date and time that worked for everyone without anyone having to say NO to anything.

ANYWAY. This is to say, this is a topic of considerable fascination to me, as a midwesterner with a non-midwestern spouse, as a moderator on an international forum where people do not bring the same social assumptions to a conversation that I do, and as a parent of an ASD child. Some of these are SUPER DUPER things I've had to explicitly teach my child -- "Yeah, give me one minute" doesn't literally mean "one minute" and people will think you're an asshole if you're counting 60 seconds or otherwise timing them; "one minute" means "as soon as I'm done with this task I am currently engaged in that is less than five minutes in length." (Furthermore, mom means "let me finish this immediate task and I will be right with you" and dad means "Eventually but I have a very poor sense of time and get wrapped up in what I'm doing so maybe eventually but it might be an hour and you'll have to ask three times.")

HOWEVER, my child has an easy time with some very midwestern expressions (that I see on the list in various forms), like if my kids say something assholeish I often say, very calmly, "I'm sorry, would you like to rephrase that?" and they ALL know (even the two-year-old) they'd better backpedal immediately because they fucked up bad. (My husband, however, is like, "no, I'm pretty sure that's what I meant!" which, okay, now we're going to have a fight about it!) Or "Wow, that is not your best idea," means "You need to stop that right now before you lose an arm or eyeball," and my kids totally get that, whereas my husband hears "that is not your best idea" and thinks, "Wow, this is my second-best idea! Awesome!"

So it's really fascinating to me, the intersection of cultural nuance -- some of which my ASD child gets but my non-midwestern husband does not -- and non-literalism, which my ASD child struggles with but my husband understands. And it's really fascinating to me the kinds of nuanced cultural information my kid can pick up -- my kid has NO problem with sarcasm -- and the kinds of things that go right over my kid's head, like "I don't know whether you got my message ..." being an explicit opportunity for the counterparty to save face and to smooth the interaction. And other kids on the spectrum might really struggle with the sarcasm that is so obvious to mine. And then how some things that are super-obvious to my midwestern children (on and off the spectrum!) are a complete mystery to my non-midwestern husband!

And honestly one of the things that's been hardest for me to learn as a mod is to thread this needle where I'm direct, but not offensively direct, because in my social milieu a suggestion of a better behavior option is almost offensively direct, but on MetaFilter I often need to be explicit and direct even when it's uncomfortable for me, but not RUDE, and that can be hard for me to calibrate coming from a culture where directness in itself can be rude! I've gotten more comfortable over time, but almost every moderation fuckup I've had has been either when I phrased something as a polite suggestion that needed to be a FIRM DIRECTIVE (and I felt like it was a firm directive! But for anyone not from the US midwest it was clearly not), or when I've attempted to be direct and misjudged my tone and bellyflopped right into mean. It can be really complicated! Because my read of "polite" and "rude" is very different from most other English speakers'! I feel a lot more comfortable with that now than when I started, but some days I'm definitely like, "How do I thread this rhetorical needle so that 300 different English-speaking cultural groups feel like I'm being clear but kind?"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:42 PM on February 6 [114 favorites]


If you want people to understand you really are offering them the last potato, just say, "You want this? Because if not I'm tossing it out."
posted by mono blanco at 7:48 PM on February 6 [31 favorites]


I work with a few people who are on the spectrum. I am a neuro-typical with a very high degree of emotional intelligence and I have noticed lately I am spending a lot more time clarifying what I mean. Because I’ve come to understand that emotional cues are not easy for everyone to detect. And I don’t want to put the burden of assuming my intent when I could simply practice being more direct.

This is very hard for me to do. It feels like going against instinct, and it’s (for me) a little unmooring. But I keep trying because I truly believe it’s important.

This was a very insightful article for me, thank you for sharing it.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:49 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


i still have the hardest time, as someone on the spectrum, with both the let's have drinks list (thoguh it's the opposite for me, i offer to have drinks or coffee, and they say yes and it doesn't happen, and i don;t know why) and the how are you doing, that took me years. i think that it might be bc i am really really extroverted, and the combo of wanting to spend too much time with people, and wanting to be super curious with people's lives, and people being super polite.
posted by PinkMoose at 8:15 PM on February 6 [5 favorites]


Whereas with me if she said "I don't think it'll work with church" I'd make an open counteroffer of like, "Do you think dinner would work better, or should we figure something out next week when things are calmer?" and she'd say, "We just have so much on Sunday, do you have anything open midweek?"

As an ex-Midwesterner, I have this issue sometimes with my particularly NYC friends, where a deflection is not taken as the "no" it is, or, in reverse, I take something as a deflection-refusal when really they only mean they couldn't do that thing at that minute, but an hour later would be fine. Or whatever. It's one of the few things that still makes me feel a little out of place in the city. (On the other hand, I have no trouble at all screaming "NO!!!" at a dude who won't leave me alone on the subway, so...)
posted by praemunire at 8:48 PM on February 6


Is “With all due respect”=“I'm about to insult you just a little” really all that much of a translation? The literal meaning is along the lines of “In what I'm about to say I'm going to accord you a particular degree of respect, specifically the degree of respect which you are due” and the bit that conveys "otherwise I'd exclusively be expressing disrespect" seems like more of a corollary than an unspoken subtext. To say what I'm about to say is inherently disrespectful but nevertheless I'd like to explicitly accord you the amount of respect you're due beforehand independent of the content of my subsequent speech.
posted by XMLicious at 8:52 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


I really do want to have drinks sometime, but, for real, my high school Calculus teacher once looked at me and said “I have no idea how you ended up in this class. I’m not sure you understand basic arithmetic, let alone algebra,” so it’s really not a cop-out when I ask if you want to doublecheck my math on the bill.
posted by thivaia at 9:05 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


According to the table in this article, “not bad” from a Brit is far better than “quite good.”
posted by armeowda at 9:08 PM on February 6 [7 favorites]


I can deal with all but #4. I'm not neurotypical, but I'm not on the spectrum. And I can deal with the "How are you?" "Not bad" interaction. But the "Hi, how are you?" thrown off in passing, without giving the person a chance to respond grates on me. If I say "Hi" and you say "Hi, how are you?" I think you're offering to start a quick conversation/make small talk/extend the interaction for another few seconds. If I say "Hi" and you say "Hi, how are you?" and keep walking, I'm going to think you're an ignorant asshole, if only for a few seconds.
posted by Hactar at 9:13 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Yeah, is this a regional saying? I've only heard people say this literally in response to like "how's the line at that DMV branch?" or "is your house ok after the leak?"

Yeah it’s not written correctly. “It’s not actually that bad.” means “It’s ok.”
“That’s not bad!” (Especially with an uptalk at the end) means “that’s quite good!” The high rising terminal makes it sound like surprise, so it works to convey a more intense meaning.

No version of it means it’s the best thing ever.

I’m sorry, Pogo_Fuzzybutt, but the way you phrased your comment made me laugh and laugh. Hugs.
posted by greermahoney at 9:23 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


My versions/commentary of these:

* My mom likes to ask, "Would you like to do such-and-such?" and even if my answer is NO, what she means is, "I am giving you an order to do such-and-such."
* I absolutely agree on the honest opinion really means "sort-of," and the one about the baby being "There is literally nothing else I am allowed to say!" and the "got my message" one--I hate those moments.
* "We must go out for a drink sometime" translates into, "I like you, but not enough to put actual effort into actually scheduling that drink."
* One I use is "theoretically," which translates into "so-and-so said they would do X, but in reality I don't think they are actually going to DO X so I am making plans assuming they flake." I am 95% right on that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:44 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


I think it’s important to emphasize that day-to-day language is fuzzy as a way of A) acknowledging the incomplete information we are all working with; and B) allowing others the chance to save face or decide what to reveal. It’s a good thing.

Also: I used to try for clever, bespoke answers to “how are you?” Until I discovere no one wanted it, no one was enjoying it, and it was just exhausting all the way around.

The thing with “fine, how are you?” or “good, and you?” is you can say it without much emphasis, or you can say it warmly with lots of eye contact and a smile. There’s an enormous amount being communicated in that word. Just ... don’t take it literally and stop making it a point of principle. It’s just a social exchange and people don’t have to get all Holden Caulfield about it.
posted by argybarg at 9:54 PM on February 6 [16 favorites]


I am a whirling dervish of chaos and entropy, and the moment I am not actively fighting to keep my space clean, it turns into a mess and just slides from there. I mean it is impressive just how quickly it can get out of hand.

So I’m always apologizing for the mess. I did this one day to someone stopping over for the first time. “I apologize for the mess. . .” Leaving the ellipses as evidence for my discomfort. And he responded with the polite and socially gracious response that his place existed in a state of mess, as well. But he also told me how to finish the phrase: “I apologize for the mess, but I live here.”

I use that to this day.

(And yet still feel bad about the mess)
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:11 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


the sort of men who think women are property and shouldn't assert themselves like to tell the ones who are complete strangers to them "I love you" as part of their harassment/bullying. Given my own experience I highly doubt that this is actually the case.
posted by brujita at 10:26 PM on February 6


People don't actually say #26 in real life, it's just a lame Carlos Mencia-style stand up comedy trope.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 10:41 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: people don’t have to get all Holden Caulfield about it.
posted by riverlife at 11:08 PM on February 6 [9 favorites]


According to the table in this article, “not bad” from a Brit is far better than “quite good.”

Yeah, there's unfortunately yet another comprehension gap in this article. Judging by the use of 'maths' in one of the questions, the translations are somewhat specific to British culture.

Same with the potato thing. In the US, if someone asks me if I want the last one, it usually means they are offering it to me and the correct response is to take it. In Britain, it usually means they want the last potato.
posted by vacapinta at 11:20 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


The funniest thing about the whole "What's up?"/"How are you?" exchanges to me* is how easily I am thrown off by even the smallest deviation from the script. Case in point: I ran into an old friend recently and we exchanged the ritual "How are you?"/"Good, how are you?", and I was thinking to myself good job, Basil, you're doing it! you're socializing! and then the friend followed up with "No, really, how are you?" and it completely took the wind out of my sails.

*not neurodivergent, merely terminally awkward
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 11:48 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


I came here to say what brook horse already said better - that it's not the set catchphrases (which are learnable, if baffling initially) that are the problem but the million other bizarre things people do and say that aren't part of the pre-choreographed social dance; this is where the majority of misunderstandings/responses from me that fall flat occur.

I can do the "hi, how are you?" "good thanks, how are you?" two-step as fluently as if I were neurotypical, but I find the "mild teasing about whatever is happening right now" style of humour/communication particularly difficult to parse, and I often straight-up don't get specific jokes or references that everyone else finds immediately funny (I do a lot of fake-laughing-along-I-definitely-heard-and-understood-you-this-is-less-awkward-than-asking-someone-to-explain), in spite of generally being a humorous person and having a better-than-average command of metaphor.

I mean I also speak almost entirely in abstractions, mostly extremely weird and specific analogies, which I'm sure plenty of people find equally baffling and hard to understand.
posted by terretu at 11:52 PM on February 6 [11 favorites]


Yes, this is British, and I'm also the same age as the author (who I've met!) so our teens were saturated with internet snark. There was and is a big geek/autistic crossover in cultural spaces online. It's where I first learnt about Asperger's as the diagnosis (coined 1994) was making its way into wider culture (1999 for me). Of course I thought I wasn't "serious enough to count" and should just try harder. 20yrs later I'm diagnosed and radical about it. I'll be teaching younger autistics to be themselves ASAP, for work and/or life.
posted by lokta at 12:27 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


The list in the article: meh.
These comments: not bad.
Earlier threads about different communication styles: not bad at all!
I'm always fascinated about how lying and obfuscating an answer is considered more polite than just saying yes or no. I'm from NY originally and I guess it is regional.

I wish I could go back in time and tell my younger self about language and how people communicate:

Your face does the wrong things, if you need to communicate important information to people, write it down in a paragraph, and they will believe you, if you say those same words to them aloud, they will focus on your face and body and disregard what your words mean.

Nobody can read minds, but some people think they can. After a group conversation, take several aside and ask what they think the other person meant, and you will find that people either don’t know, or disagree with each other and therefore at least some of them are wrong. Talking with people who think they can read minds is tricky.

Some people will insist on talking in an unshared code, will insist that you know what they mean, or what the context is, and will refuse to explain themselves in clear language because their goal is not to inform you of a situation or resolve a conflict or communicate information, their goal is to play out their emotional energy and use it against you. Your guesses will be wrong, your actions will be wrong, your intentions will be irrelevant, you will never get a straight answer from them, because they prefer creating and nursing a grudge over creating understanding and cooperation. Just walk away.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:46 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


Whereas with me if she said "I don't think it'll work with church" I'd make an open counteroffer of like, "Do you think dinner would work better, or should we figure something out next week when things are calmer?" and she'd say, "We just have so much on Sunday, do you have anything open midweek?"

This is a Southern thing too, and it's a good example of how a person can know the form of communication but still fail to understand what the other person means. I've never been diagnosed as being on the spectrum, but I still fail miserably at social interaction. For me, I start getting lost at the "do you think dinner would work better?" stage--some people mean "no, but let's keep trying to find a date" and other people mean "I really don't want to, stop pushing me" at that point, and I can't read...anybody, really, well enough to tell what they mean in the moment.

I end up either accidentally responding appropriately, pissing them off because I'm trying to push them into an engagement they don't want, or pissing them off because they think I'm blowing them off when they really do want to keep trying to find a meeting that works. I'm anxious just imagining an imaginary conversation along those lines.
posted by mattwan at 2:03 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


When people say: it’s not actually that bad.

They mean: This is the best thing ever!

No, they really don’t.


Let me guess: you're not British
posted by acb at 2:04 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Fucking everybody's house is messy unless they can afford to pay for regular cleaning.

Or unless they have a discipline that prioritises tidiness before other things. Which is more likely if they're ex-military, live on a houseboat where things can go badly wrong if everything's not in its place and tied down, or believe that making this choice accords them moral superiority and/or bestows meaning on their life.

It used to be (and may still be, to an extent) a polite fiction that everybody would pretend that this is, in fact, the normal and/or morally correct way of living, and that one's slovenly deviations from this are anomalous outliers, rather than just the way most people are.
posted by acb at 2:13 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


According to the table in this article, “not bad” from a Brit is far better than “quite good.”

This really depends on tone of voice. It's quite good is, at best, damning with faint praise. It's quite good is, however, high praise indeed, with a suggestion of an element of surprise.

"It's not bad" can similarly be either a complete sneering dismissal of any value in the thing under discussion, or utterly lauding it.
posted by Dysk at 2:15 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


live on a houseboat where things can go badly wrong if everything's not in its place and tied down,
If only!
Sorry about the mess means "I've spent all day tidying. Please notice how extremely tidy my boat is"
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:34 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I can't stand this convention. And I always feel like a rude oaf because I am so bad at the whole "how are you?" "Fine, how are you?" back and forth dance, and also the whole "have a good day" thing. I've gotten pretty good at parroting back this kind of thing, but it has never felt anything but super awkward to me. Is this something people just naturally learn how to do? Do parents teach this to their kids?

I feel a bit backwards to normal here. My mother is a very formal and correct person, who believes in very certain and particular manners and yes, I was taught a ton of scripts as a kid and somewhat annoyed teen. It took me til my late 20's before I really got good at throwing the scripts away and interacting with the majority of people in a less formal and more natural way, particularly if I didn't know them. Being taught how to have these little conversations just made me awkward, because I thought I was meant to say certain things at certain times. Really no one actually cares that much, at least in my life now. I'm still a little bitter.

According to the table in this article, “not bad” from a Brit is far better than “quite good.”

This really depends on tone of voice.


It's the same in Australia. Tone tone tone. Ask me how I am at 9am, I'll probably say not bad. I mean I'm ok. Ask me how the gig was on Saturday night, I'll probably say not bad. But I might mean it was pretty good. Or just middling. But not awesome and not crap.
posted by deadwax at 3:40 AM on February 7


Direct-vs-indirect communication is such a tricky thing in general. My very existence was nearly prevented by it.
And my parents are both second-to-third generation New Englanders, so from the same culture.

My mother showed up to volunteer at a community theater where my father was building sets, and they started talking; Dad thought they were hitting it off, so asked Mom if she wanted to get coffee. She didn't, so she said no. He figured, oh, okay, he was reading the signals wrong, so politely began wrapping up the conversation and backing off -- she had to realize that was what he was doing and clarify that, no, she didn't want COFFEE, but ice cream sounded good.

And they've been more-or-less successfully miscommunicating ever since.

Weirdly, DAD'S the one who's probably on the spectrum, and Mom's the one who's whole life's work is about careful emotional communication.
posted by Xiphias Gladius at 4:08 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


So hey, how do you know when someone actually wants to hang out with you sometime and is not just making polite mouth noises about it?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:12 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


Or equally, if I suggest hanging out with someone and they say, "Yeah, we totally should!" how do I know whether or not I will terrify them if I start proposing actual dates/times/activities?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:16 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I tend to go by how they react to concrete suggestions. I always make them by some asynchronous means of communication (email, text, Facebook message, never face to face or phonecall). That makes it easier for people to say no, or come up with some excuse. It's easy and fairly painless for both parties if they can just claim to be busy (whether legit or not) and then that's that. If they are just busy at that time, it's now on them to suggest an alternative. If they don't, I assume its because the interest isn't actually there.
posted by Dysk at 4:34 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


(I am on the spectrum though, so the above represents a learned approach that's about managing not being able to read people/situations, where you might fare better by using those intuitions if you actually have them, idk.)
posted by Dysk at 4:36 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


"With all due respect.." does not mean "I'm about to insult you just a little"

It means: "I am sorry if your feelings might be hurt, but you're wrong in some way that will make things worse if you continue to think that way, so I have to speak up at this point..." To regard it as simply a polite blush on a casual insult, done in bad faith, entirely misses the point of the conversation in many instances, particularly in things like a work setting. I mean, it can be done that way, but that's by someone who is not acting in good faith anyway.

"Can I offer anyone the last potato" is often literal at our family table. It's more often a way of saying "For the love of Montressor, someone please! I don't want to have to be eating this as leftovers for the next week."
posted by bonehead at 5:37 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


Fucking everybody's house is messy unless they can afford to pay for regular cleaning.

Or unless they have a discipline that prioritises tidiness before other things. Which is more likely if they're ex-military, live on a houseboat where things can go badly wrong if everything's not in its place and tied down, or believe that making this choice accords them moral superiority and/or bestows meaning on their life.


I live in a tidy house for the first time in my life because I did some work on my chronic procrastination, and also fixed up my house so now I feel affection for it instead of resentment, and I actually enjoy keeping it tidy (I know Mum can you actually believe it?!), and it calms my mind after a stressful day. I feel like I now have to apologise for my tidy house if you visit me? My constant "Excuse the mess" always meant "Please don't look down on me because my house is undoubtedly much more messy than yours but I'm aware of that, I'm not blind to my mess, I'm doing my best" whereas now I should be saying "Excuse the tidy" meaning "I'm not actually ex-military or rich I just discovered I enjoyed my house more like this." We're all different folks and we're all doing ok whatever that looks like. Hell if I'm walking in dogshit in your house but you're happy with that cos you love your dogs and it's hard to manage the shit-clearing then it's your house, you know?

You can fuck right off taking the last potato though
posted by billiebee at 5:53 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]




This whole "quite good" thing - it's worth acknowledging that "quite" in particular has extremely different definitions in British and American English. (More on regional differences in intensifiers here.)
posted by mosst at 6:12 AM on February 7 [7 favorites]


The funniest thing about the whole "What's up?"/"How are you?" exchanges to me* is how easily I am thrown off by even the smallest deviation from the script.

When I lived in England, I spent an embarrassingly long time low-key worrying that I looked ill because people kept asking me "ya alright?" which to an American is interpreted as a genuine inquiry.
posted by Automocar at 6:27 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


"With all due respect.." does not mean "I'm about to insult you just a little"

It means: "I am sorry if your feelings might be hurt, but you're wrong in some way that will make things worse if you continue to think that way, so I have to speak up at this point..."


In a British context (as goinWhereTheClimateSuitsMyClothes' link also points out), "with all due respect" absolutely means "I think you're thick as fucking pigshit".
posted by Dysk at 6:30 AM on February 7 [5 favorites]


This list is unfair in parts and has a strong British bias.
posted by spinn at 6:33 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


This list is unfair in parts and has a strong British bias.

Now that’s some direct communication. :)
posted by Barack Spinoza at 6:33 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I live in a tidy house for the first time in my life because I did some work on my chronic procrastination, and also fixed up my house so now I feel affection for it instead of resentment, and I actually enjoy keeping it tidy (I know Mum can you actually believe it?!), and it calms my mind after a stressful day. I feel like I now have to apologise for my tidy house if you visit me? My constant "Excuse the mess" always meant "Please don't look down on me because my house is undoubtedly much more messy than yours but I'm aware of that, I'm not blind to my mess, I'm doing my best" whereas now I should be saying "Excuse the tidy" meaning "I'm not actually ex-military or rich I just discovered I enjoyed my house more like this." We're all different folks and we're all doing ok whatever that looks like. Hell if I'm walking in dogshit in your house but you're happy with that cos you love your dogs and it's hard to manage the shit-clearing then it's your house, you know?

I'm with you, billiebee. Our house is normally kind of a mess but it stresses me the *&$# out and I'm trying to get better about keeping it orderly on the regular. It isn't the shame of other people's opinions that stressed me out, either - we always tidy up before guests come over - but just the general disorder. I discovered during high school that cleaning my room freeing my desk of clutter made me feel peaceful inside but somehow have managed to not internalize that mantra and transfer it to my daily routines. Everything having a home, mail management and not collecting shit will probably go a long way if I can get off my butt and make it happen.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:08 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Ohhhh some of these drive me crazy and almost come off as passive-aggressive. The "do you want the last potato" when they actually want it for themselves drives me nuts (I often ask the person if they do before answering yes). I respond to "hi, how are you" with as much honesty as is appropriate for the situation ("good" for strangers, a little more honesty for acquaintances/friends because I am incapable of not being honest about these things to people I know) but it grates on me and I feel rude if they say it without the expectation of a response at all.

And what on earth is with "did one of us leave the door unlocked"? Just ask me if I did!!! It won't insult me and itll make me feel like you're willing to be honest with me about other stuff!! Like actually telling me if I fuck up an interaction or I'm doing something annoying or you've actually been trying to flirt with me this whole time and I'm going off about computers because you asked what I do!!!

Idk, maybe it is a cultural/regional thing. But I've had a lot of experiences with people who dont say what they mean, never tell me they're annoyed (and give me passive-aggressive "here's a way to fix this thing I'm annoyed with" solutions without ever telling me what the problem is) and in the end I get in trouble. I am just not cut out for these situations.

I used to have a lot of social anxiety because I was constantly worrying about these things. Now I'm fairly sure I can step lightly around people who have trouble with contradicting me/saying no, and just be as direct (with compassion, always!) with others as I can without breaking social rules too much.

Oh, and I haven't asked anyone who I dont actually want to hang out with out for a drink for years. Lots of "we should do xyz" that we never end up doing though, I guess that's the same thing.
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 7:48 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


"Did one of us leave the door unlocked?" = "Don't look now, but your fly is down."

I thought everyone knew that one.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:04 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


I really don't have a particularly tidy house, but these days I also don't invite other adults over socially without bringing the place up to the standard where I'm not ashamed of it (which, let me stress, is far from perfectly neat--more like not actively embarrassing). So I only ever say "excuse the mess" to someone who's over without being invited, usually a workman or similar. I understand how having kids and/or being disabled makes this approach wholly untenable, but otherwise...honestly I find it a little bit offputting. Why am I being asked to soothe you for your failure both to live up to your own standard of hospitality and to reconcile yourself to it? My own standards are pretty low, so up to that moment probably I either didn't take any particular notice or I did in a way that's not going to be addressed by "excuse the mess."
posted by praemunire at 8:10 AM on February 7


This has all been fascinating. (Not-midwestern US, Guess Culture, NT but awkward/raised by wolves. Guess Culture wolves, you heard me)

I took the "hey we should do something sometime" dance as a polite fiction too, translating it as "hey you're a nice person but we have 900 better things to do, you get it, nbd." And then I found out that my friends found it very hurtful and felt I like was blowing THEM off. So... this stuff is hard, and you never really know what anyone is thinking.
posted by cage and aquarium at 8:20 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


So I only ever say "excuse the mess" to someone who's over without being invited, usually a workman or similar.

I guess, as a workman, I would just say that I don't feel an apology is necessary. I can't speak for all tradespeople, but my perspective is that you are paying money for me, a stranger, to come into your home and get all up in your private space. It's on me to make you feel comfortable, not the other way around. I am doing my job, and my job does not involve judging your lifestyle but it does involve providing good customer service, part of which involves being accepting of the fact that most people in the world are pretty busy and stressed and just do not have the bandwidth to maintain their homes to the standard that television and magazines and Instagram et al tell us is socially acceptable.

Like, it's not wrong to apologize, you do you, whatever makes you feel comfortable. It's just not necessary. Your messy home is normal. Even if your home is abnormally messy, it's really not a big deal. I currently have some gray sludge stuck to my boot that I'm pretty sure used to be kitty litter at one point before it was dumped in the yard and got rained on, and even that is just another day at the office for me. I'm not gonna die, I'll just wash it off later.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:29 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Well, if the workman has to step around or over or move something or put something on a messy surface, then I feel that the mess has inconvenienced them to a certain degree.
posted by praemunire at 8:44 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Your messy home is normal. Even if your home is abnormally messy, it's really not a big deal.

I have literally had workmen exclaim "how do you live like this!?" at the state of my place, so either you aren't like the workmen I've come across, or the horrors of how I live are beyond the scope of your comment.
posted by Dysk at 9:10 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Hey, if apologizing makes you feel better then go for it, it's not annoying or anything. But stepping over and around things or sometimes moving them out of the way (gently, and then putting them back after) is just part of the job. It's just an utterly routine thing that I do when it needs to be done, and I really don't mind it—if I did, I'd be in the wrong line if work. If it's to the extent that an area needs to be cleared out before the installers can work there then I'll let you know, as that too is part of my job. But it's not your job to make my job easier. It's nice when it's easy, but this is my work. They don't pay me to only do the stuff that's convenient.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:11 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


That workman was probably an asshole! It happens.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:12 AM on February 7


While the others haven't been as explicit, that guy wasn't exactly a one off...
posted by Dysk at 9:26 AM on February 7


Now I want to preface everything I say with "with all due respect". With all due respect, this apple pie is delicious. With all due respect, what time is it? With all due respect, you did a terrific job on that report.

But I don't want to change the subject. Let's keep talking about what we were talking about.
posted by alpheus at 9:31 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


I still feel like you should not have to apologize about the state of your house to someone who is literally being paid to be there. If they make you feel badly about your home, that's an error on their part. Maybe it's a common one, although it's not been the attitude of any of the people who I've personally worked with. If they want to get all judgey about your housekeeping, they can fuck off and someone else can have the work. I mean, I know you're unlikely to fire them on the spot, but it's bad for business to make customers feel uncomfortable, not to mention just rude.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:32 AM on February 7


scruffy-looking nerfherder:

I really don't think that communication through indirection and implication is passive-aggressive. I'm sure sometimes it is, but sometimes it allows others to save face or exit gracefully or allow a situation to develop organically instead of being pressed.

For instance, if someone said: "Let's hang out sometime. I mean if you don't want to, tell me now, but otherwise let's pick a time" probably thinks they're being a hero of East-Coast honesty. But all they're doing is making me decide if I like them, when maybe I just don't know them quite well enough yet. But no, here I have to slam a door shut by saying "I'm not interested." Or what, I should say "I don't know you well enough yet and probably the conversation would be awkward, but maybe if we run into each other a few more times and the conversation is good I'd be more interested." Fuck that. Do you want to hear that? Do you want to be forced to say that?

Letting someone else say, "yeah, that would be fun. Let me get back to you, I'm pretty busy" lets things happen more fluidly and correctly honors the unspoken elements of social connections.

Sometimes you gotta just let the dough rise instead of punching it over and over, you know?
posted by argybarg at 10:23 AM on February 7 [9 favorites]


I still don't understand it, but I accept when people say they want to hang out one-on-one sometime, they usually don't actually mean it.

The distance between desire and intentionality makes a lot of difference for this one-- I know so many people who say this to mean "I like you very much and I enjoy spending time with you, if only someone were to arrange an adult playdate where we could both drink alcohol and laugh together, I would muster up the effort to attend, but planning it myself is currently beyond my capacity." So when people assume the implied friendliness of "we should hang out sometime" is insincere because the hangout never happens, that isn't necessarily true. There are lots of things that I would like to do that I simply never do because I can't get my act together. It doesn't mean I was lying, more that I was stating a philosophical truth about the universe (we should hang out! there should be trees that grow lollipops! more people should support the public library with donations and volunteering!) rather than a declaration of intent.

I think this is a fascinating (and frustrating) example of how the same sentence can mean dozens of things depending on context, which makes universal one-to-one translations less than helpful. Off the top of my head, I've heard "we should hang out sometime" mean:

-I will call you tomorrow with plans to hang out
-let's spend six months making jokes about how we never have time to hang out
-I want to hang out with you, but I'm worried you don't feel the same way so this is a way to figure out your take on us moving from acquaintances to friends
-please ask me out on a date
-never speak to me again
-I'd like to get your take on some things that I don't want to discuss in mixed company
-I will say whatever I need to say to get this conversation to end
-No I will not go on a date with you
-I like you better when I'm drunk but will remember why we don't hang out in the sober light of day
-I am trying to make someone else jealous
-please leave my office
-I want to see how you operate in a different social setting
-I want to be friends but there's no socially acceptable way to say that outright
-as soon as this event ends I will again believe everyone I know secretly hates me so I'll never actually make plans but I wish I could
-all my friends have kids and you don't, so if we get along that would be great for me
-all my friends are single and I have kids, so if you (another parent) are up for it we would like to know more parents
-we like the same sport
-[awkward conversation filler]
-I am a celebrity on a talk show making nice with the host
-I want to try to convert you to my religion
-I want to try to sell you products from my MLM scam
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:32 AM on February 7 [33 favorites]


It's almost as if life is ambiguous and language reflects that ambiguity!
posted by argybarg at 10:40 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


"I don't know you well enough yet and probably the conversation would be awkward, but maybe if we run into each other a few more times and the conversation is good I'd be more interested." Fuck that. Do you want to hear that? Do you want to be forced to say that?

That sounds fantastic to me. I would love to hear something like that. I don't quite understand why someone would have to be forced to say that. I'm not saying people would or should be comfortable with that kind of interaction, but I also don't think it's crazy to prefer it.

When people say "everybody knows" that phrase X really has meaning Y I tend to take the everybody part literally so this thread is great because everybody is becoming a smaller group with almost every comment.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 11:07 AM on February 7 [4 favorites]


I say "everybody" to refer to just myself sometimes because "everybody" is such a nebulously defined group and I'm part of everybody. Like, "everybody is hungry, you want to get something to eat?"

"If I say "Hi" and you say "Hi, how are you?" and keep walking, I'm going to think you're an ignorant asshole, if only for a few seconds."

By the same token, I think many people will likewise think it rude if you hold up somebody to answer as a question which has never had a compelling answer in the history of humanity.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:41 AM on February 7 [3 favorites]


Regarding the whole "We should hang out some time thing":

For me, sometimes, it translates to, "I like hanging out with you! We should totally hang out some more!" but then later, when I'm home, and tired, and curled up in bed, or just when inertia takes over, I don't actually follow through, and then I feel guilty about not following through, and it's a whole shame spiral, etc, etc.

But in the moment, it's totally genuine!

Except of course when it isn't. But I would never initiate a "Let's hang out some time" unless I meant it. Now, sometimes I'll do the whole, "Yeah, we totally should get together" response if someone initiates, because it would feel super impolite to say anything else.
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:46 AM on February 7


MetaFilter: I'd like to get your take on some things that I don't want to discuss in mixed company
posted by billiebee at 12:00 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


Dear argybarg whom I will forever fondly call East Coast Honesty Hero
"Do you wanna here that?" YES
" Do you wanna be forced to say that" YES


Them: "what are you doing this weekend?"
Me: "that depends, what are you proposing? I was going to do X to all that Y on the properpty, but if you are calling in a favor or have a more tempting offer, lets hear it"
Then they pitch the favor they were going to ask or their tentative plans and,i eithet say "yes" and,negotiate time and location or i say "sorry, i'm going to pass, I really want to get X done".

Also, I decide all potato based offers based on what dessert is likely to be, i don't try to guess if the potato offered is some double-secret strategy to actually not offer the potato.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:13 PM on February 7 [5 favorites]


I wonder if earlier mid-west example of "lets do lunch" "would love to but church" thing isn't about face-savibg but about emphasis/power saving. Like if both parties are in on the etiquette, both parties know the offer was rejected, but the indirect way of saying "no" by inventing an excuse preserves the shock value and strength of just plain saying "no" for when you want added power.

Akin to how some people reserve swear words for special occasions, while others swear casually. Those two strategies might even line up regionally: If i say "you can fuck right off with that fucking bullshit" in NY, they take it to mean " I disagree, your argument is unpersuasive try a new one or lets talk about something else" But I suspect if i said that in wisconsin, they would read it as "I DISAGREE AND YOU HAVE MADE ME DANGEROUSLY ANGRY".

maybe the mid-western politeness isn't lying for lyings sake, but a way to preserve greater contrasting levels of empahsis. Fuck if I know.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:39 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


Gosh this whole thread makes me want to move back to the east coast so bad where people just use the words to say the things and we can all get on with our day. I just never want to get yelled at ever again for taking a yes as a yes instead of a no.
posted by bleep at 12:43 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Or what, I should say "I don't know you well enough yet and probably the conversation would be awkward, but maybe if we run into each other a few more times and the conversation is good I'd be more interested." Fuck that. Do you want to hear that? Do you want to be forced to say that?

Wow, what a striking remark. I basically forgot that some people would be very unhappy with that.
posted by value of information at 1:00 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


should

I feel that when I use the word "should", about 90% of the time you could replace "should" with "won't" and the meaning stays pretty much the same. We should hang out. I should really work on my resume this weekend. Black Panther should win Best Picture this year.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:12 PM on February 7 [4 favorites]


praemunire: "Well, if the workman has to step around or over or move something or put something on a messy surface, then I feel that the mess has inconvenienced them to a certain degree."

As long as I don't have to pry your range off the floor with a tire iron I'm good.

Dysk: "I have literally had workmen exclaim "how do you live like this!?" at the state of my place,"

Jaw drop. My $Diety. Even when I've had to pry the range off the floor with a tire iron I've never commented on it.
posted by Mitheral at 5:58 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]


"Do you guys want to drop by on Sunday for pizza for lunch?"
"Oh, we'd love to! But I don't think it will work with church!"


I find this interesting because I'd just be bewildered with a response like this. I'd either wonder why the initial enthusiasm when she clearly didn't really want to or assume she was looking for help problem solvng some aspect of it. If she'd instead responded that it was a lovely offer, but could we do it another week, then I would know that she did want to do it and understand what the problem was with the initial offer (the day). It seems like you have to keep finding specific things to offer and wait and see if any meet her approval, rather than have her say what she wants. Is this a guess culture thing?
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:35 PM on February 7 [1 favorite]


Unless what she really wants is not to drop by. In which case it is (generally) polite to leave her a graceful out, rather than forcing her to say “we’re not that into you guys.”

In which case, making her politely refuse one option after another is unpleasant.
posted by argybarg at 10:29 PM on February 7


Your house is messy, my house is messy, everybody's house is messy. Relax. It's fine. You're fine.

So... I'm a collage, multimedia, and fabric artist who can't afford much space. I organize a lot of things in piles. Pretty much everyone I've ever known will be like "excuse the mess" as a politeness thing, but in my case my place is legitimately kind of a disaster area and I don't have people over often and do genuinely feel awkward about the mess when I do. I've been wondering for a while if this is just a standard issue social lie, or if it's the kind of thing where everyone is most critical of themselves. I don't know that it particularly matters, but I'm curious.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:01 AM on February 8


I think they should add more to this list.
"Are you ok?" to a stranger or acquaintance means I hope you aren't in such a state that I need to take time or effort out of my busy day to deal with you.

"don't you agree that ...?" = I don't care what your real opinion is, I just want to rant at you about what other people are doing that I disapprove of.

"I don't like drama" = I love drama.

"... is butting his/her nose in where it doesn't belong" means "I butted in first and I called dibs".
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:15 AM on February 8


I'd either wonder why the initial enthusiasm when she clearly didn't really want to or assume she was looking for help problem solvng some aspect of it.

The slight logical disconnect tells you that she's turning you down for a specific reason on that day.
posted by praemunire at 8:20 AM on February 8


hey...so this post has been sticking in my craw since I saw it. It's not (just) that this is dismissive or autistic people or that this is (just) smarmy about missed intention in the age of problematic consent.

Kids, it's bad to make people who don't always catch social clues think they're autistic. And it's bad to make autistic people think that this spotty indicator is the defining factor of their lives. I'd like to say it's a cute, funny indicator of something we all understand, but that's a bit the same as saying that black face is kinda sometimes ok for politicians of a certain age. It's not that this can't he true sometimes, it's that the indicator is wonky and janky and shit. SO still not a good avenue for broad humor.

And I think this site makes a broad, repetitive joke out of something that should be afforded more thought. IDK, fight me?

if the jokes had been better, I probably wouldn't raise my SJW flag. That's kinda the point. [edit:some expletives removed from this post]
posted by es_de_bah at 3:45 PM on February 8


Um… I didn't think they were jokes? I think they were written by someone on the spectrum and intended to be genuinely helpful, if also a little bit funny in places? They're not all solid gold in terms of advice, but they certainly serve as a good jumping-off point for conversation. One of the things that I'm getting from this thread (in which both people I know are autistic and also people I assume are not seem to be participating freely and coexisting rather well) is that both neurotypical and neurodivergent people can agree that conversation can be hard and people often do not say what they mean. I'm not getting a stigmatizing or pathologizing vibe here, but maybe that's just me?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:05 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


Man, wait til this guy finds out that, as Thor wisely said, "all words are made up."
I have ALWAYS loved Thor (since, er, 1979?) and that line made me fall even harder. Oh, my linguistical heart!


The best part is the casual implication that this is completely obvious to the slowest dullard who has been around for a couple thousand years.
posted by straight at 6:00 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]


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