When I was teaching my fiction workshop a few weeks ago, we were in the second class, critiquing each other’s works. I was giving my impressions of one piece, and a student commented, “You say ‘Does that make sense’ a lot.” It didn’t really have a lot to do with the critique I was giving at the moment, so I didn’t think too much about it, but then I started to catch myself saying that phrase a ton. She was right.
I *do* say “Does that make sense” a lot.
So of course the question I asked myself was, “Why?”
And as I’ve thought through it for the past week and a half or so, I think there are a couple of reasons for it. The biggest one is that I feel a continual drive to be a sensible person. One who thinks things through and makes reasoned decisions. I’m not typically obsessed with being right or wrong, so long as the arguments I make have a solid foundation. This is in large part due to the fact that I don’t believe there’s often a right or wrong answer to a question. There are multiple viewpoints, some of them more valid than others, based primarily on the issue of whether those viewpoints can be justified.
If I’m not making sense, then I like to know it. Or even if I’m perceived to not be making sense. I still reserve the right to evaluate the criticism and decide if it’s justified or not, but it’s important to me to hear it in the first place.
The second reason I think I use the phrase a fair bit is in an attempt to be polite. Asking “Does that make sense” allows me to rephrase a statement if it comes off in a way I didn’t intend. It gives the person I’m speaking to a chance to feel comfortable objecting to something I’ve said. Since I was in a situation where I was critiquing a series of fiction submissions by high school students, I was on my best behavior, trying to walk the line between being too nice and being too critical, and that overloaded my “be nice” vocabulary, so I just fell back on the ol’ “Does that make sense” approach.
There are other phrases I catch myself overusing. “Bluntly put.” “Jiminy Christmas.” I’m sure there are more. I suppose we all have our go-to phrases. When I write, they’re easier to catch, and I go through and mix things up more. But when I speak, I fall back on familiar words in an attempt to communicate as quickly and easily as possible.
Does that make sense?
What are some of the phrases you over-use? Have you ever had someone call you out on one?
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