Remember when I said I didn't get angry about enough things anymore?
Well, there are still a few things. Let's talk about one of my pet peeves: the phrase "said no one ever."
I don't know when this became a catchphrase of sorts, but I've seen it often in the past year or so. A quick search on Twitter turns up dozens of examples in a short period of time:
"'Marriage is AWESOME!!!' said no one. Ever."The phrase is generally used as a way of expressing your opinion about something: Take your opinion, say the opposite, and say that no one ever said that. So if you love burritos, rather than just saying, "I love burritos," you say, "'I hate burritos!' said no one ever."
"'Irish is easy, I love studying it!' said no one. Ever."
"Yay choir concert tonight I'm so excited Said no one ever"
"Thank god it's monday... Said no one ever."
"'Being naked isn't fun' - said no one ever"
"'I don't like Nike stuff' - said no one ever."
"'I have too many shoes,' said no one ever."
"'Pizza? No thanks.' - said no one ever."
There are multiple things that irritate me about the phrase, but what jumps out first is this idea that just having an opinion about something is not enough. "Said no one ever" is a tired attempt at being funny while essentially saying, "This is my opinion AND EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD AGREES WITH ME."
So it's not enough for you to personally like pizza, shoes, or Nike, or hate Mondays, studying, or choir concerts. You want to be right about your personal preference -- even though personal preferences don't fall under "right" and "wrong" the way facts do.
This frames an opinion as being a fact. It is an attempt to turn one's subjective view into objective truth by appealing to the crowd and saying that no one disagrees with you.
This goes a step further than arguing with someone who disagrees with you. If I like Pride and Prejudice and you don't, we can have an argument over whether the book has merit as a piece of literature, but we can still walk away understanding that the other person has a different feeling about the book.
But if you say, "I love Pride and Prejudice! - said no ever," you're not disagreeing with me, you're completely erasing my voice and the validity of my personal opinion.
You might think that it's extreme to say that a phrase like "said no one ever" could erase someone's voice, but it's not a far cry from an experience I often had in college. As a non-drinker at a school known for its alcohol consumption, I constantly heard professors make jokes like, "I'm sure none of you has ever had a drop of alcohol," a comment generally met with laughter from the class.
There was an implicit message that non-drinkers did not exist on that campus.
When I took a survey as part of a research study for psych class credit, two of the questions asked how confident we were that we could 1) stop smoking and 2) stop drinking. There was an "N/A" option for the first question, but not the second, and we were told not to write N/A in anywhere. I had to ask the study proctor how to answer the second question, since I couldn't stop doing something I never did.
The message was as clear as if someone had said, "'I don't drink' - said no [University] student ever."
I've also often seen this phrase used as a way of discouraging people from believing that their voice matters, such as "'Wow, that thing you posted on Facebook really changed my mind,' said no one ever" and "'I've learned so much from Twitter,' said no one ever." The truth is that I personally have had my mind changed because of things shared on Facebook and have learned a lot from the people I follow on Twitter.
I particularly dislike these kinds of comments because they seem to communicate the message, "Your words are worthless. You should just save your breath because you're never going to influence anyone." Would it not be better to help people understand how to best share their beliefs so they're received well?
"Said no one ever" comments also irritate me because they show an incredible narrow-mindedness and lack of imagination. They betray a worldview in which your personal experiences and opinions are so widespread that you can't even imagine a situation, past or present, in which someone might have uttered the phrase in question.
Certainly, if pressed, someone who says, "'Pizza? No thanks.' - said no one ever" could probably come up with situations (such as food allergies) in which someone would turn down pizza, but we don't always go through these kinds of thought exercises when making decisions. Someone whose default mode of thinking is "Of course everyone likes pizza" is likely to order pizzas for an event without even stopping to consider whether an alternative food should be provided as well. This is the problem I talked about in the "You Are Not Everyone" post.
In child development, the term "egocentrism" is sometimes used to describe the fact that young children have trouble understanding that other people have different thoughts, knowledge, and opinions from their own. A child asked about another child's favorite toy would likely point to their own favorite toy, not understanding that someone else might have a different preference. "Said no one ever" comments showcase this same kind of self-focused, limited understanding of other people's diversity of thoughts and opinions that we see in children.
There's a final problem I see with these kinds of comments: Failing to acknowledge that other people have different thoughts and experiences means not having the opportunity to learn about and understand another person's point of view. This is similar to what I wrote about empathy last week -- when we seek reassurance that our own views are normal and anyone deviating from them is wrong or strange, we miss the opportunity to better understand and love those who are different from us.
In the case of the person quoted above who thinks no one would ever say being naked isn't fun, making the assumption that everyone enjoys being naked means not bothering to think about what it would be like to be someone who struggled with their body image. By simply taking two seconds to think about what might actually cause someone to say the thing you're about to declare no one has ever said, you create an opportunity for empathy with someone who has had struggles you have not had to face yourself.
Or, on the flip side, in the case of the person who can't imagine someone saying marriage is awesome, think about what a learning opportunity it would be to actually seek out people (like me!) who do think, and will say, that marriage is awesome, rather than simply venting frustration by declaring such people don't exist.
If you are a person who regularly uses the phrase "said no one ever," I hope you'll think of this not as a stinging indictment against which you have to defend yourself, but as a call to reflection and to reconsider whether that phrase is the best way to communicate what you want to say. If you want to state your opinion, can you just state it without announcing that everyone everywhere has the same opinion? Can you come up with a situation in which someone might actually say the thing you're about to declare no one's ever said? If so, how would your comment possibly make them feel?
What do you think about the phrase "said no one ever"? Are there times when it's appropriate to use?