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Charlie Hatton
Brookline, MA

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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

It’s My New Best Policy

(Curious about scanning electron microscopy? Well, of course you are — who isn’t?

Want to know what SEM has to do with 30 Rock, the Simpsons and Goldspider, which I totally didn’t just make up? Then check out the latest post on Secondhand SCIENCE. That’ll teach ya.)

I’m thinking of picking up a new phrase to sprinkle into conversation. Because that’s totally the sort of thing I think about on weekends, when there’s nothing else happening.

Truly, I’m living the dream.

Anyway, my top candidate right now is “if I’m honest”. So far as I can tell, this is a phrase that gets a fair amount of use in the U.K., but not so much here in the States.

I say that because I don’t remember ever hearing anyone nearby saying “if I’m honest”, and I listen to people who speak directly to me at least six or seven percent of the time.

(Somewhat less if they have freckles. Freckles are very distracting.)

At the same time, the phrase is used all the time on the show which I use as a barometer for all of British culture — Top Gear on BBC America. For example:

If I’m honest, the Porsche’s grille looks like a cross-eyed Sheffield boxer’s reflection in a funhouse mirror.

Or: “If I’m honest, your lap time was slower than the tea room queue for biscuits at the St. Palsy-on-Thames Home for Addled Spinsters.

Or perhaps: “If I’m honest, my car’s handling is as squirrelly as James May’s unkempt gentleman’s forest.

It’s possible they never said any of these things. I only listen closely to foreign specialty variety shows about twelve percent of the time. But let’s assume they did. Or at least they said “if I’m honest” a lot.

I think this is a fantastic habit to pick up, for three very good reasons.

First, using this phrase involves doing something that the Top Gear presenters do, and that’s obviously what they’re there for. The motto for the show is practically, “yes, by all means, please try all of these things at home“.

More important, “if I’m honest” is a near-complete license for deception. If I work it into conversation three or four times a day, then it establishes that, in those three or four sentences, I’m being completely honest. I’ve just announced it, and so those sentences won’t be lies.

The logical conclusion being that all the other words I spew out over the course of the day are very likely mistruths, duplicitous, ill-informed or pure fantasy. It’s beautiful. Label the truths, and take the rest of the time off.

How has this not caught on in, for instance, Congress? Seems like a fit.

Finally, “if I’m honest” seems like a fantastic template for other feelings or attitudes someone might want to declare at the beginning of sentences. Why stop at honesty, when the phrasing represents a handy launching point for a whole spectrum of messages to relay? Like so:

If I’m tired, I probably wasn’t listening to you anyway, freckleface.

If I’m nervous, I need a fresh pair of pants.

If I’m horny, you should put on the Babar costume and pick a new safeword.

So that’s settled. “If I’m honest” is now a part of my vocabulary, along with other derivatives as I find them handy. Ooh, here’s one:

If I’m out of good ideas right now, then I just managed to squeeze nineteen paragraphs of nonsense out of some offhand comments on a smartass show about European cars.

Oh yeah. This is already working out. Brilliant.

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