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I’ve posted before about finding myself uncharacteristically tweaked as a Formerly at little dumbass things that wouldn’t have bothered me a couple of years ago. Well, here’s the Peeve of the Day (POD), and it’s not even 9 AM: Preambles to petty, judgmental observations that serve to inoculate the utterer against potential criticism and making the listener feel thin-skinned if she’s hurt or offended.

Chief among these, of course, is “No offense, but [insert verbal knife here and twist].” But there are others, including:

“At the risk of sounding like a bitch…”

“I’m not judging her for this, but…”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“I don’t mean to come off as racist/small-minded/elitist/etc., but…”

It was this last one that set me off on this rant. Yesterday, I overheard a woman on the bus talking on her cell phone. “I don’t mean to sound mean-spirited, but I have no idea how that girl made it into NEST,” she said. NEST is a competitive public school here in New York City that a kid has to score a 99 on a rigorous standardized test to get into. My children did not; most children do not. Apparently one child who did insufficiently showcased her brilliance for the woman on the cellphone, thus causing the woman to question her right to be there, if not her test scores. She went on to talk about how this child disrupts her daughter’s kindergarten class with her sub-99 behavior, and how it’s keeping her intellectually superior daughter from becoming even more so.

Think what you will about testing four-year-olds (I think it’s silly) but if a school’s sole criteria for admission is that a four-year-old get a 99 on a test, and the four-year-old got into NEST—assuming that no one’s mommy slept with the Schools Chancellor—then that’s how she got in. The woman on the bus was essentially asking her listener not to think ill of her for casting aspersions on a small child.

If you’re going to cast aspersions on a small child, I say, GO FOR IT!  In my most petty, immature, loser moments, have cast aspersions on small children. Then I have felt like the rotten, judgmental whiner I can sometimes be. But at least I didn’t ask the person to whom I was speaking to give me a free pass. Do I think that makes me better than the woman on the bus? Yes, by a miniscule margin. I’ll take what I can get, considering I’m the kind of person who once in a while talks trash about 4-year-olds.

Such faux disclaimers have always bothered me somewhat, mostly because they signal that something that I probably don’t want to hear is forthcoming. But what has lowered my blood’s boiling point in the last few years is that I’ve tuned in to how manipulative they are. The person using these phrases is pretending to ask you not to feel the very emotion he is setting you up to feel, so that when you feel it, the implication is that there you are too sensitive.

Grrr. Manipulation of any sort, but particularly verbal manipulation, is something I no longer have patience for. Just say what you want to say, take responsibility for it, and move on!

Also potentially in that category is, “For what it’s worth, I think…” What that really means is, “I’m going to say something I clearly think is valid, because I’m saying it, but I’m asking that you don’t put too much stock in it, in case you think it’s lame.” When this phrase reflects an insecurity on the part of the speaker, it doesn’t bother me. But it does when it is meant to convey, “You are such an opinionated, closed-minded person that I’m going to toss out my thought, fully expecting you to write it off as worthless, because you do that all the time.”

Uh-oh. I hear that a lot. Maybe I’m that person. Good to know. I’ll work on that. But next time, just say it to my face!

Photo by: Swanksalot CC