First, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for not distinguishing other things you tell me by first saying, ‘I don’t mean…’, because the implication here, I think we can all agree, is that if you don’t distinguish the thing you’re saying by saying ‘I mean…’, you are ipso facto saying something you don’t mean, in which case I may as well just check my emails or something until you’re finished saying your un-meant thing.
I will be forever grateful that you spare me the need to ask you, ‘what do you mean?’ You answer that question regardless of whether it is being asked. I can only begin to measure the energy this saves me.
But the main impetus behind this letter – the thing I mean – is to express my appreciation for the pause – oh, that pause! Where do I begin?
That pause demonstrates courtesy. That pause shows me that you are taking that extra ellipses of time to do a final internal due diligence fact-check to satisfy your mind that you are indeed about to say something you mean. In our busy, instant-everything world, I appreciate the no-rush laissez-faire unlocking of the safety on your speech-gun.
Check out the difference between the approach of a person like you, who begins sentences by saying ‘I mean,’ and then pausing…
“I mean…” – Pause – “people who view foreign policy through the significant but ultimately narrow lens of trade miss out on vital diplomatic nuance.”
…and compare this to the approach of a person who doesn’t begin sentences by saying ‘I mean,’ and then pausing…
“People who view foreign policy through the significant but ultimately narrow lens of trade miss out on vital diplomatic nuance.”
Whoa! Where’s the fire?! Shove your elitist, generalized foreign policy snark down by throat, why don’t you? Doesn’t the second example sound like it’s coming from the mouth of a first-grade a-hole? Does this a-hole mean what he’s saying? I, for one, am not sure.
If you were the kind of brazen communicator who cannon-balled into statements without saying ‘I mean’ and then pausing, what chance would I have to be sure that you are saying something you mean? How would my thought-boats travel between different levels of thought-canal without the dignity of this lock-filling-with-water transitional pause?
By beginning sentences by saying ‘I mean…’, and then pausing, you assure me that you are not conjuring words out of thin air, or estimating what you think I want to hear; no, you are treating me with respect, like someone who deserves to hear something genuine fly first-class from your conscience to my ears.
People who rely on the words they choose and the context they build by the order of the words they say to make themselves understood, make their points clear and make it clear that it goes without saying that they are saying what they mean have no idea how language works at all, even.
Know what I mean?
Christopher Shelley is a Wedding Celebrant and writer whose work has appeared in Slackjaw, Points In Case, and Little Old Lady Comedy. He marries people through his company Illuminating Ceremonies.