Tuesday, May 7, 2013


There are many ways to insult a man. You can steal from him, strike him, shout him down, and on and on. Surprisingly few words, however, are so pregnant with scorn that they can single-handedly and unilaterally insult a man. We need not mention them, but most insults can be walked back, softened, used jovially, or explained away. Even many vicious remarks are limited in their focus. One word, though, seems to carry irrevocable and devastating repudiatory power: actually.

Actually will hew any conversation asunder and cut anyone to the quick. In fact, no conversation is so friendly or genial that actually won't cleave it in two. It's so flippant, as if the word means to overturn whatever argument preceded it, however logical and artful. You will be educated, it says. Actually. It smacks of such a smug self-satisfaction in what will follow that it etches the speaker's smirk, and there's always a smirk, into your mind.

No intonation or gesticulation, however soft and timid, can lessen actually's effect. No follow up can change course. It is a declaration of war. As such, it should be stricken from the gentleman's vocabulary. There's always a friendlier point around which one can pivot if you intend to disagree: speaking in the abstract, pretending to agree even though you are disagreeing, or re-attributing his statement to someone else and then disagreeing with that person.

When you get actually-ied, though, all bets are off. It's a total war of rhetoric. So disagree wisely, if you must disagree, less you wake the wit within the gentleman.

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