Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Insinuating “You”

The Insinuating You* is the abuse of the Universal You in order to describe one’s actions while slyly asserting that everyone agrees with one’s thoughts, feelings or actions. Usually the abuse takes the form of a single sentence, such as:

The reason I quit my job at Harmonious Arbitration after only two weeks is because you can’t stand the constant bickering of your colleagues.

But occasionally an especially sly person pushes the Insinuating You one step further; he delivers an entire narrative – including his thoughts, conclusions and feelings – in the present tense and the second person.

The purpose is to trick the listener into “reliving” the speaker’s experience. Of course, the narrative is actually the speaker’s self-edited and self-censored recollection of the experience; the thoughts, conclusions and feelings tend to be of the self-justifying sort.

For example, I overheard a man saying this in a country store:

You’re going along, just under the speed limit. You round a turn, and suddenly there he (a deer) is, smack in the middle of the lane. You hit the brakes as fast as you can. But it’s too late – there’s nothing you can do. You feel terrible, but you know it’s not your fault…

The speaker’s listeners looked embarrassed for him. After all, if a grown man honestly wanted someone’s candid opinion, he wouldn’t play silly word games like this. He’d just tell the story straight, and then ask listeners for their opinions.

The Takeaway: Don’t use the Insinuating You when describing a first-person experience. It can make you appear desperate for approval but afraid to ask for it for fear of rejection.

See disclaimer.

*My coinage, so far as I know.

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