English is a bitch of a language. It’s imprecise, follows rules… until it doesn’t feel like it, and lacks the right word for entire swaths of human emotion and experience.
And yet, English is capable of great cunning and impressive cleverness. Take, for example, the passive voice.
Scourge of good writing, we are told to eschew it. Take responsibility! Take action! It’s hardly the most subtle of cop-outs when companies and politicians are trying to do crisis management, but boy do they love it for that purpose.
Passivity can be used sneakily, too. And it can make you wonder if the person meant to do that, or did it subconsciously, and so quite possibly meant the opposite of what was said, but felt obliged… or something.
To wit: I recently returned from three weeks overseas. These two sentiments were said to me. (See what I did there?)
“We missed you.”
“You were missed.”
Now, at first glance those two phrases might appear to say the same thing. But do they? The first one pretty explicitly states that the people in question (i.e. with whom I was conversing at the time) missed me while I was gone. Aww, thanks.
The second phrase backs that up — I was missed — but does it say by whom? Nope. So can I assume the person who said it actually missed me? Nope. Well, depending on the relationship there, perhaps. But what if it was someone with whom you weren’t well acquainted, or who might have an unknown agenda?
The person who said it could mean he/she missed me. Or that person might not have missed me at all, but wanted to sound good and curry my favour with apparent expressed affection. And so basically he/she might have made a statement resting on the assumption that someone probably missed me, and if I want to assume that person was one of them, so be it, but he/she isn’t going to just come out and say so. Convoluted, no?
Now, I might be cynical (hell, I’m all kinds of cynical), but I find language fascinating, especially when in use with people you don’t know inside and out. Like would your Mom ever greet you after weeks away with, “You were missed”. Not bloody likely.
Sure, analyzing relationships this way might be courting trouble, but with some people, I consider it an act of sanity to apply some rigor to our interactions. People are sticky and messy, and some are fairly diabolical.
While you don’t want to be ruled by paranoia or “what ifs”, it’s not a bad thing to be cognizant of people’s efforts in how they present themselves. At the very least it can make you more aware of how you present yourself as well.