Say What You Mean, Alice

‘Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.
‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’
‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. ‘You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see"!’  — Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carrol

“Thankfully, it isn’t raining today. As such, we can have our picnic.”

See those first phrases? The ones separated by commas? They have no subjects of their own, therefore they must refer to the subject of the sentence. “It” is thankful that it isn’t raining, and “we” are “such,” whatever that means.

Today’s tipping point, the one that made me head for Live Writer to do a little ranting here, instead of Open Office to do some real work, was this, from The Guardian:

It could be that the gifted child is the true outsider of our times. Caught between the physical world of their peers and the intellectual realm of adulthood, they mirror the feelings of not quite belonging one can experience as one gets older. As such, readers can empathise with the conundrums and pitfalls that befall the prodigy. (emphasis added)

     (Why must all fictional children be geniuses?)

Note the use of “as such.” This phrase clearly refers to those who are in the condition described in the preceding sentence, that of being caught between worlds. But the phrase is in a sentence whose subject is the readers who are doing the empathizing (empathising, in the UK). The readers are, presumably, not the ones who were described as being caught between worlds.

Ok, it’s a pretty little nit to pick, I suppose, but of all the things I see being done to language, the ones that drive me battiest are the ones where the end result is a sentence that doesn’t say what the writer meant.

“I could care less.” (meaning the exact opposite – I couldn’t care less.)

“Thankfully, . . .” (and other words along the same lines — almost always misused)

“Same difference.” (As in “Hand me that wrench.” “You mean this pair of pliers?” “Same difference.” The difference between a wrench and a pair of pliers is the same as the difference between what and what? What, exactly, does that mean?)

I’m not, in spite of my reputation, big on grammar for the sake of grammar. But the fact of the matter is that we speak a language in which the words you use and the order in which you place them and the words you use to hook them up into sentences all play a part in what you’re saying, and when what you’re saying isn’t what you said, we have a problem.

I’m not a mind reader. I don’t know what you meant. All I know is what you said. So “you should say what you mean.”

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By the way:

I have a website, which I would like to replace with this blog. That is (trying to say what I mean), I would like to have this blog have the URL I’m certain such a thing can be done, and I’ve examined the steps a few times, and they were written specifically to make an old dinosaur feel stupid. Any of you kiddies out there want to help an old man out? Send me an email at and tell me how to make this happen, including moving that email address, and I’ll send you a copy of one of my books.


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