There are some truly terrible words in the English language, the C-word is fairly awful, as is the F-word, the B-word, the S-word, and I know that ‘moist’ is a fairly unpopular one, but me for me, my least favourite word in the English language at the moment, has got to be the seemingly inoffensive: ‘but’.
Now don’t worry, I am not about to tell you that the Urban Dictionary has just released a statement saying that it is now up there with the ‘N-word’ in terms of offensiveness, and of course it is incredibly useful, a word that we use countless times a day, wait for it, BUT, there are so many instances when that three little word has so many connotations that it can’t help but be terrible.
“I love your outfit but…’ ‘I’m so liberal but…’ ‘I have absolutely no problem with gay people but…’ ‘Of course I hate Donald Trump so much but…’ ‘I think she is such a great girl but…’
You just know that none of these sentences are going to end well. In fact, you can guarantee that each of them will end with something which is at best, totally contradictory to what they started their point with or at worst, something totally offensive…
‘I love your outfit but are you sure orange is your colour?’ ‘I’m so liberal but there is a part of me that thinks Muslim women should not be allowed to wear hijabs in public’, ‘I have absolutely no problem with gay people but I just wish they wouldn’t shove it in my face’, ‘Of course I hate Donald Trump but you have to admit he does have some good points’ ‘I think she is such a great girl but really, she can be a bit of a slut…’
You catch my drift. ‘But’ is almost never good news. You can often sense it coming too, there is a tone that people adopt when they are about to drop the B bomb that just tells you that the end of their sentence is not going to be pleasing to your ears.
It almost feels like a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free-Card when used in the above contexts, an argument fit to stand any contradiction on the grounds that the sentence started with something nice. Which somehow is more offensive. I don’t know if it is because it is harder to argue, or simply because I’ve been caught off guard with the initial acceptance of my point, but something just doesn’t sit right with me.
Used right of course the word is fine. For a teacher to tell a student that they are so proud of the progression that they have shown, that they appreciate how hard they are working BUT this test just somehow didn’t reflect the work that they have been putting in in the classroom, is fair enough. Equally when you’re breaking bad news or in the midst of a heated debate or discussion and trying to be diplomatic it is essential to prevent World War Three breaking out
It’s also incredibly useful day to day. I actually tried to write this piece without using it once, other than to shame the living shit out of it, but I literally couldn’t do it. See. It’s everywhere. So I have no grounds on which to suggest that we stop using it, it’s impossible and ridiculous and actually totally futile. Because the word isn’t really the problem. At the end of the day, they are just letters pulled together to form a sound.
It’s the way that we use the words that are the problem. It’s not the word, rather than what we are saying. ‘I hate you so much’ is a nasty sentence. ‘I hate you so fucking much’ is scary, threatening and hurtful. We know that fuck is a bad word and as a result we use it for affect and offence. If you said the second sentence to an alien, or a child who didn’t yet know that fuck was a naughty word, they wouldn’t see anything particularly hurtful in that sentence, other than the hate bit of course.
So perhaps I was a little quick to push all the blame onto such a tiny little word. But this conversation is still worth having, because there is so much about a ‘but’ sentence that just isn’t right. ‘But’ basically translates to ‘I’m about to say something hurtful and offensive but I’ve done it in a totally acceptable way so don’t you dare call me up on it…’ which is one thing in a discussion, but to my mind, totally unforgivable in certain instances, the most obvious of course being after the word ‘sorry’. Because that really isn’t good enough. “I’m sorry but…’ translates to ‘I’m not even slightly sorry, I know that you think it’s what I ought to say, but let’s be honest – I’m not ready, I’m still seething and am actually ready for another fight…’ So for that reason, it’s worth considering as to whether or not your apology is going to be trailed by a b-word, because if it is, you either aren’t doing it right, or aren’t ready to make one.
I hate that three little word and all of those times that we use it in the context of being a dick, so if I might suggest we just try to reign it in a little bit and think for a little longer before we blurt out whatever offensive thing that we have in the pipe line I reckon we’ll stand a much better chance at being good nice people, BUT of course, don’t hold me to that.