The other day, I noticed there are certain phrases I use over and over but never finish. And I don't mean phrases like "Hi, I'm Gladstone, if I asked you to have sex, you would say ...?"
Yeah, I only said that one once.
Anyway, the reason I don't finish these phrases is because I don't need to. Neither do you. Society has noticed that there are certain scenarios where a few unfinished words and a gesture or facial expression get the job done. Here are five. Are there more? I'm sure there are, but five is a nice number. I grew up in a family of five. There are five fingers on one hand, and Lacey Chabert from Party of Five grew up hotter than any of us expected.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
But our hearts still belong to Alyssa Milano.
Our first entry is something I like to call the lazy "or." It's nicely evocative, don't you think? It conjures an image of someone going around in circles in a rowboat.
Lazy oar. Get it?
The lazy "or" is when you want to convey options, but don't want to be bothered thinking about what those options could be. Examples include:
"So, you wanna get some Chinese food, or ...?"
"Yeah, bowling sounds like a fun idea, or ..."
"Do you like it when I do that thing with the thing in bed, or ...?"
Thing not pictured
The lazy "or" is just a nice way of saying "This conversation's not over, and I welcome your input." It's a way of qualifying your opinion to let someone else know it's not the final word. Of course, it can also be used passive-aggressively. For example:
"I'd be happy to have that last slice of pizza, or ..."
"So we'll get Grandma a gift card to Chippendales for her 80th birthday, or ..."
"It's the worst when you can't think of a third example for your article, um, or ..."
In those cases, the "or" becomes more manipulative than lazy, but still allows you to not finish your sentence.
Here's one that pops up a lot in crowded places. You're in some place with lots of people -- people you don't really know or ever have cause to speak to. Let's say it's a Starbucks. You've got your coffee and you need to add some milk or nutmeg or whatever you like to put into your coffee. But the Starbucks fixin's bar is flooded with a gaggle of commuters all very much in their own coffee creation worlds, oblivious to your need for that thermos of milk they're currently blocking you from.
Sweet, sweet milk.
What do you do? Well, if you're like me, you say "Excuse me" and give just the barest explanation for the intrusion. I tend to say "Excuse me, I just ..." and then point meekly to the milk they're blocking. I'm not sure why I don't finish the sentence. I just don't. Maybe because "Excuse me, I need the milk" sounds weird. Other things that sound weird:
"Excuse me, I just need to push my floor on the elevator."
"Excuse me, could I just get past you so I can get that brochure on chlamydia you're blocking?"
"Excuse me, but you're really fat and oblivious, and normally there's a passing lane on an escalator."
But the good thing about this partial phrase is that only the biggest psychopaths will get mad at you for using it. It seems there are plenty of people in the world who don't like to be told what to do, and finishing your thoughts only antagonizes them more. You might not set them off with "Excuse me, but I need the milk," but you will definitely irk someone with "Excuse me, you're blocking the milk." Why chance it when you can just say "Excuse me" and make a meek gesture?
Here's one I get to do all the time in New York City, but I'm sure you folks have done it too wherever you live that isn't New York City.
Des Moines? Is it Des Moines? It's Des Moines, isn't it?
This is the sentence you say when you're in a closed space with a group of people, only one of whom is crazy. Let me set the scene: You're sitting comfortably on the downtown 2 subway heading to Wall Street. (Do they have subways that take you to Wall Street in Des Moines? Never mind.) Suddenly, a man jumps onto the train, reeking of urine and supporting several forms of insect in his facial hair. He blocks the doors and screams, "Jesus was just a pancake the Lord made to kill the Animaniacs, and the media doesn't want you to know!!!"
Or sometimes he might say something really crazy:
"I enjoy talking to Adam Tod Brown about music."
Sure, you could just sit there and say nothing, but you need to make eye contact with someone who doesn't sprinkle his dinner with human feces to establish that you are sane, and your loud new friend is not. Of course, you never want to antagonize a crazy person, so you just get out the "Well ..." and then you roll your eyes or do a subtle head nod to convey "LOOK AT CRAZY!" Yep, good job. You're totally sane now. You and your buddy on the train are now official partners in not being crazy. And best of all, the crazy dude can't accuse you of saying anything. Yep, crazy people lose again.
Here's another that works well on subways, but really it's a keeper in any situation with more people than seats. These days I don't offer my seat to young women. Why? Because I'm a feminist, that's why! But I do offer my seat to moms with little kids who need to sit on their lap, or the handicapped, or pregnant women, or really old people. I think that's as it should be, but let's not argue. That's not the point. The point is how you do it. Sure, I could do it with a full sentence that's easily comprehensible. But I don't. I don't know why, but I never say, "Excuse me, but would you like my seat?" or "Would you care to sit here?"
Instead I do this fun thing where I start the sentence and then just point. Typically it's to the seat, but sometimes I'll assume a very cool half-crouched position with raised eyebrows while seemingly pointing backward to that seat. Now, just because it might look like I'm suggesting that an old lady engage in oral sex with me is no reason to doubt the validity of this technique.
"Are you asking me to stand or kneel?"
Do you ever want to say no to someone, but you're weak-willed or manipulative or just trying to be polite? If so, then the "so" rejection is a great sentence fragment for you! Let's say someone invites you to do something you don't want to do. You could say "That's a terrible idea" or "Get away from me, freak" or just "No." But then you'd have to face the consequences of your feelings.
Why not try the "so" rejection? Here's how:
"Hey, Gladstone, want to talk to me about music?"
"I'd love to, but I'm just about to alphabetize my underwear by color, so ..."
Actually, that was a bad example, because that's pretty clear I'm being a dick. Let's try it again:
"I'd love to, but I promised my cousin I'd go to the hospital to donate lifesaving blood for her medical procedure, so ..."
There ya go. Nailed it. I just seem like a nice guy with previous plans instead of an antisocial d-bag, and all because I decided not to a say a few words.
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