Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Harmless and misguided advice

At a career-coaching workshop today (don't ask), we were given the advice that we will come across more positively (and feel more capable) if we always replace the word but with and.

This is not a smart thing to say to a bunch of academics.

Philosopher: "But—"
Workshop coordinator: *Ahem*
Philosopher: "AND the two are not logically equivalent."

Computer science guy: "If I do that in my code, my compiler will barf."

Linguist: "Sometimes 'and' doesn't make grammatical sense!"

We all start coming up with impossible examples of and-sentences, or ones where the sense changes dramatically if you switch from but:

"The party was all and over, when they started clearing up."
"Everyone and my father showed up to my graduation."
"I planned to go to the gym and I didn't want to."
"I would have won the Nobel Prize, and there isn't one for sky-diving."

"People! People!" said the coordinator, exasperated. "Just try it, okay? It really works! Why, just recently I had a client who kept saying how he really wanted to take an expensive training course, but he needed to find enough money. Finally, I challenged him to turn that but into an and. So he tried it out: 'I really want to take that training course, and I need to find the money for it.' And just like that, he turned things around! Now he's taken the course!"

I asked, "Where did he get the money?"

"I don't know," said the coordinator, with a you are missing the point glare. "I guess he used a credit card."

I smile. "So he did the training course AND he's now hugely in debt?"


liz said...

I love how smart-alecky all of you were about that truly obnoxious advice.

Seeking Solace said...

Great post!!! Sometimes, people just don't think it through.

Bardiac said...

I wouldn't say this is harmless. Think of the grammar!!!! :)

I love that your group resisted the pollyanna stuff.

Grace Dalley said...

Wow, what a tough crowd!! I bet the speaker was rueing the day! ;-)

I do kind of get where she was coming from, but poorly-thought-out, poorly expressed, and a bad example.

And I imagine the barriers to further employment for academics are things no change of attitude can change, like there not being enough jobs!

Leigh said...

Hi Styleygeek, Grace Dalley drew my attention to your blog, which I've enjoyed. Reading about the 'but' and 'and' equation takes me back to the 80s to growth groups I attended then, so maybe your trainer was there too! Disappointing that she didn't express the point more fully as it's one I've remembered all these years and continue to apply where I can. I find it especially relevant when writing about difficult subjects which often contain inherent contradictions. And example might be: 'They loved each other but fought constantly.' To me that 'but' is like a hiccup in the middle, and it doesn't take the subject anywhere. Better to write 'Although they loved each other they...' I think both 'but' and 'and' are over-used and often have the effect of reducing the impact of a statement. In other instances 'but' contains an apology which isn't an apology, for example: 'I'm not racist, but...', or 'I like her but...' Ugh! The companion skill I've found similarly helpful has been using positive language, ie: avoiding 'no' and 'don't' type statements. I could go on, *but*... :-) Okay, let's leave that out! It's a big topic!