What we say vs. what we mean

oi oi, how goes it?
here’s yesterday’s Sunday Times column. Enjoy:


If you’re a human being, then you’re no stranger to the common exaggeration. We all do it. Ever since a million trillion billion years ago when we first twisted our tongues enough to evolve language, we’ve been using exaggeration to further our nefarious plans.

This week I started wondering about the difference between exaggerating and lying and I’m sorry to say, I struggle to see it. Exaggerating may just be a nicer way of putting it, quite literally, but no matter what you call it, isn’t it still just a thinly disguised lie?

Take the ‘jargon’ we use when property hunting for example, all lies! Visit enough dodgy show houses on a Sunday afternoon and you become good at deciphering what they really mean. ‘Renovator’s dream’ usually means the property is old and smells like cat pee. ‘Charming’ almost always means tiny. And ‘sea view’, may or may not mean that you have an actual sea view, from your actual property, of the actual sea.

It’s not much different in the world of online dating. Not that I’m comparing human beings to property. (I’m after something charming, in a nice neighbourhood, please.) But the truth is that when you spend as much time dating online as I have (it’s all for research I tell myself, see, I lie too) you become attuned to the hidden meanings behind the ‘exaggerations’ in peoples profiles.

‘Separated’ and ‘a few extra kilos’ are two of the biggest red flags when you’re reading a profile. ‘Separated’ almost always means still married, and ‘a few extra kilos’ usually refers to forty to sixty.

‘Open minded’ is another term that should set alarm bells clanging. It means really kinky. You should expect surprise piercings, butt plugs and leather. And ‘mature’ generally means they’re lying about their age.

The irony is that in these profiles, every Tom, Dick and Harriet crosses their hearts and hopes to die, swearing up and down that they’re massively, excruciatingly, overwhelmingly honest. All this right next to the block where they write in their pseudo age and their imaginary weight.

I’m not trying to make you paranoid here. Sometimes ‘intellectual’, or ‘great personality’ really does mean just that, although usually it’s just ugly in disguise.

Don’t read enough into someone’s profile and you could end up on a date with a married Jeffry Dahmer, or read too much into it, and you may never end up going on any dates at all.

And it’s not just online and in real estate that we lie. It happens in real life too. You’re almost guaranteed that when someone says ‘with all due respect…’ or ‘I don’t mean to offend you, but…’ that the very next thing that comes out of their mouth will absolutely offend you to your core.

Same goes for ‘only joking’, or ‘just kidding’, we all say it. But what it actually means is that we’re not really joking at all, we’re actually being a hundred percent serious. But it’s a great verbal safety net in case the person takes massive offence to what you said, then the ‘just joking’ provides a nice ‘out clause’.

It’s all part of the language we use, the platitudes and niceties. Like ‘nice to see you’, or ‘you look great’, they’re the little white lies of life. ‘How are you?’ is another one. Do we really want to know how you are, or is it just something polite that falls out of our mouths and leads to us getting to say how we are, just a couple of moments later.

So the bottom line is your house smells like cat pee, your bum does look big in that, it’s not really all that great to see you, and nobody really cares how you are. Only joking!


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