May 28, 1998
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.
"I hope you don't take this the wrong way..."
When you hear that phrase, there's usually no right way to take what follows. Prepare to be totally offended. As in, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but your perfume kind of reminds me of my Aunt Gurtie's apartment -- after she died." Or, "Please don't take this the wrong way, but did you used to be -- thinner?"
I've noticed certain oft-used combinations of words that are not at all what they seem. They are linguistic red flags, harbingers of doom, subtle clues that a big, fat lie is on the way. I've learned to be weary of such phrases, translating them for myself as I nod, wincing.
"I'd be more than happy to..."
This can almost always be translated into, "I'd be less than happy than to...." As in, "I'd be more than happy to pick you up from the airport, but I think you'd be far more comfortable in one of those luxurious shuttles."
"Can I talk to you for a minute?"
What could be more casual than a minute of chatting? Don't be fooled. In my experience, this almost always means, "You're fired." Also, beware of its distant cousin, "We need to talk." That tends to mean, "We need to talk about the fact that you're dumped, and I need to arrange a convenient way for me to retrieve my books and CDs."
"Is this a bad time?"
The phrasing here might lead you to believe that the speaker is actually sensitive to your needs. Wrong. This person doesn't care if you're in the middle of performing a triple bypass, so urgent is their need to unload 45 minutes of information about their lazy boyfriend and why he won't get off his tush and get a job. This means, "Clear your schedule because I need a sounding board for my mishegoss, and I need it NOW."
"Can I ask you something? And stop me if I'm being too personal."
I tremble just thinking about this one. When I hear it, I brace myself for some horribly inappropriate question that will most likely make me cringe for several hours. "Can I ask you something? Is that a padded bra?" "Can I ask you something? Have you ever been in therapy?" "Can I ask you something? Did you have garlic for lunch?"
"I hope you're happy."
Clearly, a person wishing you genuine goodwill would rarely say this. It mainly means, "I hope you are miserable and full of guilt for your venal, selfish deeds. If I weren't so well-mannered and couth, if I weren't so close in nature to both Martha Stewart and Mother Teresa, I'd tell you how I really feel."
"I couldn't tell you were Jewish."
Generally, this lets me know I'm in the presence of someone who is less than Jew-friendly. I always feel like responding, "Sorry, I left my tail in the trunk. Would that have tipped you off?" For some reason, this often comes from a guy who has mistaken me for Italian or Spanish and appears to be disappointed. He thinks he should have known that I should be saying things like, "Oy, this is some good food. And reasonably priced. Pass the gefilte fish."
"It's nothing personal..."
But, you're fired.
"I hope this doesn't freak you out."
Oh, it will. Believe me. A preface like this can lead to any number of disturbing confessions. "I thought they were just cold sores," "I killed a man," "I think I knew you in a past life," "I had a dream about you last night, and you were giving Soupy Sales a sponge bath in my kitchen." Just to name a few.
"I love her, but I'm not in love with her."
A no-brainer: "I have a girlfriend, but I'm open to better offers. I am also a lout, who will soon be saying the same thing about you."
I would be more than happy to provide you with other examples, but I think I just might freak you out.