Modifying Absolutes

I’ve heard from a lot of you who have pet peeves about different wordy phrases, and it’s a lot of fun to hear what gets under people’s skin and why.  Here’s one example from Lara in New York:

One that has always bugged me is “I’m writing to tell you that.” It drives me crazy when people begin letters this way. As in “I’m writing to tell you that I am resigning from my job.” Just tell me! OK, so you’re writing to tell me, but just tell me. Is this correct or is this just another redundancy

How to Use ‘Buffer Phrases’ to Avoid Giving Commands

I have to admit that I’ve been struggling with this one ever since I said not to start e-mails with the phrase “I just wanted to let you know.” For example: “I just wanted to let you know that nachos are half price until 6:00,” or “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to miss my deadline.” I couldn’t figure out why starting sentences that way felt so right but seemed so wrong at the same time.

Then Jeff from Fountain Valley wrote in to comment that many of these seemingly empty phrases act as buffers, carry certain emotional weight, or demonstrate personality—and then it all came together in my head. When I’m writing an e-mail, I often imagine that I’m talking to the person. Whereas it might feel like I’m insisting that we must go out to eat if I just write, “Nachos are half price until 6:00,” it feels more like a suggestion or me just sending helpful information if I lead into the idea a little more gradually: “I just wanted to let you know that nachos are half price until 6:00.” It’s more like I’m saying, “Do you want to maybe go get nachos tonight?” or “I know you love nachos, so I thought you might want to know that they’re on sale tonight.” It’s less insistent.

Similarly, it might sound like I don’t care if I email my editor and say, “I’m going to miss my deadline,” but if I start with what some people might consider an empty phrase and say, “I just wanted to let you know that I’m going to miss my deadline,” then it feels less like a confident statement, and more like a sheepish admission of my failure. 

Check in with yourself every once in a while to make sure you’re not using buffer phrases for…

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  • June 10, 2019