April 21: can I ask you a question?

Some people feel the need to signpost their conversation as it is going along. Someone said to me ‘Can I ask you a question?’. We were already twenty minutes into the conversation and questions had been shutteling back and forth continuously. You would think this would then be a very personal or somehow a leading question. But it wasn’t. It was: do you like cherries? Not a particularly personal question I would think. We know other statement initiators. For example: ‘we need to talk’ when you have been talking for half an hour (prelude to the break-up). Then there is: ‘Can I just say something?’ (prelude to an insult). The insult needs special preluding. There is also: ‘I’m not being funny or anything but…’. As well as ‘Don’t take this the wrong way but…’ As in ‘Don’t take this the wrong way but you I’ve always thought you were a shit.’ Some people prefer the epilogue as a way of controlling your response. There is the classic ‘That’s just my opinion’ after an opinion. Or the even less rococo ‘I’m just saying’. And then there are those who like to label. ‘That was funny’ says someone I know after you make a funny statement and it has its desired effet, as though all off-agenda comments need to be classified. A great one that has emerged recently is the omnipresent ‘I’m not going to lie to you…’ as a cure-all prelude.
I don’t know how we are supposed to respond to these fillers. Probably not at all. We just nod and respect the rhetoric, because if they said ‘I’m not gonna lie to you’ and ‘you interjected ‘please don’t’ they might, for some reason known only to the inventor of language, take it amiss.


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