1. IT’S THE BEST PART. The person who says this wants you to eat something gross (like the green stuff in the lobster). And they’re lying to you: they know it’s not the best part. If they eat “the best part” in front of you, they’re simply showing off, like that drunk uncle of yours who ate your pet goldfish on a dare in 1983 and ruined Christmas.
2. YOU CAN’T GO WRONG. The person who says this is trying to get you to buy something you don’t need because it’s “on special”. Or they’re trying to rationalize the fact that they just bought something that they don’t need because it was “two-for-one”. More often than not, the person who says “you can’t go wrong” just did.
3. WELCOME TO MY WORLD. The person who says this is a professional victim who resents your pain the way heavy-weight champions resent up-and-coming rivals. They wish to diminish the significance of your pain, take the focus off of you, and place it back where it belongs: on them.
4. STEP UP. The person who says this would like you to believe that they’re exhorting you to do the right thing; more often than not, however, they’re simply trying to get their way by wrapping themselves in the flag of the family, the fatherland, the future (or some abstraction: like liberté, égalité, or fraternité). Saying “this is what’s good for me” or “this is what I want for selfish reasons” would be far more honest. But also far less effective. So they tell you, instead, that it’s time to “step up” for your country, your company, your family, your department, your people, etc.
5. GET OVER IT. Telling someone who’s heartbroken to “get over it” is sort of like scratching an itch with a razor blade. Example: “Look, I know you were madly in love with him. I know you were supposed to get married next month. I know he left you for your little sister. I know he ran off with all of your savings. And I know that all of this happened a few days ago. But would you just get over it already!”
6. CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE. This expression was once uttered in the spirit of John 8:7, wherein Jesus famously tells a group of men who are about to stone a woman to death: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” But it’s now uttered in precisely the kind of sanctimonious spirit Jesus despised: the self-righteous spirit of the Pharisees, who love to perform their good works “on the street corners to be seen by others.” These days, the person who says “check your privilege” is in all likelihood little more than a schoolyard bully who’s trying to silence you.
7. WHEN YOU’RE MY AGE. This is a snooze button masquerading as an argument. Instead of addressing your concerns, the person who says “When you’re my age . . .” forestalls them.
8. KIDS THESE DAYS. Hand-wringing moralism vis-à-vis the young is almost always to be found amongst those with a scandalous capacity for amnesia. The flames of self-righteousness burn most brightly in grownups with a special talent for denial. By contrast, adults with the greatest tolerance for the peccadilloes of youth are invariably those who remember what they were like at that age. Alas, true compassion, and genuine humility, are to be found, more often than not, amongst those blessed (and cursed) with an exceptionally good memory.
9. LEAD, FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY. The true purpose of this stupid expression is to silence dissent, quell criticism, and encourage passivity. The inclusion of the word “lead” in this MBA mantra is dishonest. The person who moralistically admonishes you to “lead, follow, or get out of the way” doesn’t really want you to take the lead. They have no intention of relinquishing control of the situation, addressing your concerns, or reconsidering the wisdom of a particular course of action. They want to lead. And they want you to shut the fuck up.
10 MOVING FORWARD. A radical denial of history; corporate-speak for “I refuse to take responsibility for my actions or learn from the past.” Example: When asked about the Trump administration’s latest diplomatic blunder, Sean Spicer said: “Look, there’s no reason to dwell on the past. We’re moving forward.”
11. EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON. Much as I’d like to, I just can’t bring myself to believe that everything happens for a reason, or that life (or “the Universe”) is nearly as fair as the Law of Karma suggests. All to the contrary, I think the world we live in is a profoundly unfair place. If we want the world to be a better place—if we want justice—we have to make it happen. We can’t passively sit back and wait for Karma or Divine Retribution to right every wrong and fix everything that’s broken. This is, I think, the true (and profoundly radical) meaning of Marx’s dictum: “Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
12. TELL IT LIKE IT IS. Just as a well-meaning desire to please can easily become little more than a fig leaf, used to conceal cowardice, a well-meaning desire to be honest—and “tell it like it is”—can easily become little more than a convenient rationalization, used to condone cruelty, and justify a despicable desire to hurt and humiliate others. Example: “Look,” said the asshole, “I’m not an asshole, I just like to tell it like it is.”
13. ME TIME: “My problem,” said the self-absorbed narcissist at the yoga retreat, “is that I’m just too giving. I really need to learn how to be a little more selfish. How to set aside a little more, you know, me time.”
14. IT’S ALL GOOD. Um, no, it’s not.
15. HISTORY’S WRITTEN BY THE WINNERS. Anyone who says that the most memorable histories were written by winners hasn’t read the Old Testament. Losers make great historians. And winners often can’t be bothered: because they’re too busy having fun (enjoying the spoils of war), too busy building and maintaining the empire, or simply illiterate. History isn’t written by the winners; it’s written by those who write. Especially those who write histories. This is the macabre meaning of one of Aaron Haspel’s darkest aphorisms: “The tyrant concerned for his reputation must concentrate his fire on the inarticulate, who don’t leave pesky memoirs behind. Kill peasants, not Jews.”
16. OFF THE CHARTS. In Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” But in the real world, exceptional people are exceptional. If you say “off the charts” often, there’s something wrong with your charts.
17. HE MEANS WELL. The person who tells you that their friend means well wants you to ignore the evidence of your own experience and accept what they’re saying about their friend’s secret intentions on faith. They want you to ignore the long list of shitty things he’s done and said to you over the years, things which would lead most reasonable people to conclude that the guy’s an asshole. Still, much as it pains me to admit it, I must confess that I’m often charmed by this simple faith in a friend. Everyone deserves to have at least one friend like that! A friend who always seems to see the best in you. Even when it’s not there. There’s something so sweet and innocent and touching about these faithful folk, just as there’s something sweet and innocent and touching about kids who still believe in Santa Claus. Example: “Look, I know he raped a few girls back in college. I know he stole $20,000 from his best friend in the world. I know he’s still got those spousal abuse charges hanging over his head. And I know about that whole hit-and-run thing. But trust me, deep down, he’s actually a really nice guy. He means well.”
18. PRESSURE MAKES DIAMONDS. Then the privileged prick piously proclaimed: “Pressure makes diamonds, son.” To which I wittily responded (years later, in retrospect, and only in my head): “Sometimes it does, you patronizing putz. Pressure does, on occasion, transform a lump of coal into a diamond. But this is the exception, not the rule. Most of the time, pressure just grinds people down: into coal dust.”
19. CALM DOWN. Telling someone who’s losing it to “calm down” is sort of like putting out a fire with gasoline.
20. MANSPLAINING. Rebecca Solnit’s description of “mansplaining” is clear, precise, and painfully accurate. It’s also incredibly funny (in a sad and pathetic way; you know, the way dark comedies are funny). For instance, I once watched two clueless dudes take it upon themselves to school my wife in the intricacies of climate change politics at a dinner party. These guys—whose entire knowledge of the subject was, we later on discovered, based upon one TED Talk and last Sunday’s New York Times—continued to tell her “what’s what” even after I told them that she was an expert on the subject! Even after she’d made it abundantly clear to everyone within earshot that she was indeed an expert on the subject! Even after she’d also made it abundantly clear that these guys had no idea what the fuck they were talking about! So yeah, I get it: mansplaining is a real thing. And it is indeed obnoxious. But you’ve gotta demonstrate that you’re being mansplained, you’ve gotta demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about; you can’t just assert it. As my friend Jed Trott puts it: “There is no problem with the idea of mansplaining but it requires an argument. You can’t just drop it and walk away from it like a fart in an elevator.” Dropping the mansplaining bomb in Social Media Land has become sort of like saying: “Hmm, that sounds just like something Hitler would say.” Those who wield this weapon no longer feel the need to justify their claims. What they want, what they’ve come to expect, is automatic deference. And that’s precisely why “mansplaining” is the most recent addition to this Rogues Gallery. Calling people out for mansplaining has become little more than a schoolyard bullying technique, yet another convenient way to silence critics and shut down debate.
21. LET’S DO LUNCH. Unless you’re a sitophile who wants to slip your junk into my sandwich, can we please just HAVE lunch together? I just can’t seem to get used to this stupid expression. When someone says “Do you wanna DO tacos tonight?” I invariably blush and say something like: “Not tonight, honey. I’ve got a headache.”
22. REACH OUT. As my friend Andrew Miller rightly observes, unless you’re a member of The Four Tops, you should never say that you’re going to “reach out” to someone at work. A simple phone call will suffice. Seriously, is there a secret government facility in Wisconsin where they program the mindless robots who spew out this MBA crap? Guess I should touch base with some stakeholders, reach out to some content producers, put together a PowerPoint, and come up with an action plan. Then we can have some consultants get to the bottom of this.
23. IF YOU’VE GOT MONEY, YOU STOLE IT: This is a myth perpetuated by economically-illiterate lefties who couldn’t run a dep and sleazy Wolf-of-Wall-Street types who wish to normalize their sociopathic behavior. Growing up in a working-class neighborhood, I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard this expression: “If you’ve got money, you stole it.” It was an article of faith, part of the creed. And I believed it wholeheartedly well into my twenties. But I’ve long since discovered that it’s simply not true. There are plenty of honest ways to make a fortune.
24. IT IS WHAT IT IS: Sometimes “it is what it is” because you keep saying that it is what it is.
25. BE REALISTIC: As the philosopher Susan Neiman rightly observes in Moral Clarity (2008), when you tell someone to “be realistic” you’re really just telling them to decrease their expectations: “It’s a sentence you use on someone who is younger than you are, or someone you want to feel that way. He still has dreams and goals you’ve given up, or never had in the first place, and they are a standing challenge to the limits on life you have long since accepted. He wants more of the world than the world tends to give. Realizing his plans would require changing pieces of reality you believe to be fixed. And so you meet him with a palette of platitudes about human and other sorts of nature, the most harmless of which seems to be the well-meant advice to be realistic.”
26. TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT: The phrase “to make a long story short” is usually uttered at the beginning of the second half of the long version of a short story. Example: Dad said “to make a long story short” whenever he realized that one of his stories was going longer than it ought to. It let us know that he wanted to wrap it up but couldn’t seem to do so.
—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2017)