Perhaps this is simply a pet peeve of mine, but I have noticed there are a couple of words and phrases in the English language which are being used out of place these days. These words are presumed to be “filler”, and quickly dismissed or overlooked as you would with an “um”, or an “ok”. But, I think these terms are actually being used as a more deliberate debate tactic, designed to quietly and quickly shut down discussion.
Two key examples: “Right?” and “Just sayin’.”
Inserted with a barely perceptible upwards inflection at the end of a spoken sentence, the word “right?” is used today as an assumptive close. It happens so quickly that the listener usually just nods their head in understanding. Thus, the audience implicitly agrees. Anything that was said up to that point is now established as fact. After all, if you didn’t say something to challenge the “right”, then you clearly understood the intended meaning, and by remaining silent you therefore agree.
Likewise, beginning a sentence in “right?” or the more forceful “right.”, the speaker establishes an environment of agreement up front. What is about to be said, is really not debatable. The pump is primed, and anything that comes afterword is to be accepted as fact. Used in succession, a whole train of “rights” at both the beginning and the end of each sentence sounds like the speaker is paving the way to your absolute tyrannical obedience. The listener is simply mowed down in assumptive closes, and has no choice but to tacitly approve of everything stated.
How does this work? “Right” is used to establish confirmation of understanding, but asked rhetorically without waiting for a reply, the net result is the conversation quickly moves on to the next statement in the speaker’s logical proof. And that’s exactly why it becomes a subtle, yet effective debate tactic. After the “right”, the listener is automatically on the defensive. Most of us are not going to make a scene, and go back to challenge everything we heard, point-by-point. Instead, we tend to want to convey understanding. Therefore, we remain quiet, let it slide, and let stand as fact what we have just heard. Most listeners will prefer to get on with the conversation, waiting for their own turn to speak, and think these “rights” are innocently passing as filler.
I suggest a new approach for the listener, one that requires serious attention and a fair amount of courage to implement. Without seeming like a complete jerk, try to head off the “right” at the very moment you hear it. You may need to interrupt and apologize. But, as soon as you hear “right”, you need to stop and establish whether or not you actually agree. Do this by saying, “I’m sorry, let me understand – when you said right? Did you mean, do I agree, or do I understand?” Put the onus back on the speaker, and let them clarify, or justify their statement.
A similar phrase “Just sayin'” is written quite often in social media, usually as a sign-off comment to posts involving politically charged social issues.
Sometimes this is done in an attempt to be humorous, but the purpose is the same as above – to end the debate. By seemingly diffusing the potentially caustic, or debatable content of the comment, the ending phrase “Just sayin'” allows the poster to make a charged statement, but then not be held accountable. And if you don’t agree, it forces you to respond in the negative – again a defensive position. Plus, the phrase has an air of finality to it. By placing it at the end, by definition, it becomes the final word in the debate. How can you compete with the end of the conversation?
To combat this tactic, one might reply with “Thanks for stating your opinion.” This puts the onus back on the original poster. It’s clearly their statement, and they are responsible for its content. You don’t agree (or disagree), but simply acknowledge what they just said. This approach gives you options to continue, or leave the debate unresolved, yet not agreed.
In a world where language is increasingly misunderstood, it’s important to recognize when hidden tactics are used to quietly undermine one’s position. Keep a lookout for “right” and “just sayin'” and know how to respond. That is of course, unless you really do agree. 😉