words I dislike number 3: to be honest

September 10, 2006

Here’s a phrase that annoys me: ‘to be honest,..’ or its cousins ‘to be perfectly honest’ ‘let’s be honest’, ‘I’ll be honest with you’ and ‘to be honest with you’. So, I’d like to say, the rest of the time you’re being dishonest with me, are you?

There’s a nice reference on the excellent Magistrate’s blog: ‘”To be perfectly honest” is an eerily common phrase to hear in court. I usually think to myself that if the user knew about the laws of perjury he would realise that it is safer to be honest.’
Amazingly, someone has started a whole blog devoted to ‘expunging the phrase “to be honest” from the vernacular’. Doesn’t seem to have many posts, though. He quotes someone called Al Uszynski as saying ‘it is not persuasive to use the phrase “to be honest with you” in business matters.  If you feel the need to announce your up frontness, use the word “candidly.”‘ I think ‘candidly’ and frankly’ just about get away with it as it’s not only diplomats who realise it is sometimes better not to be either. But that doesn’t mean they are being ‘dishonest’. Well, not necessarily, anyway.

Mr Uszynski, who looks a very honest gentleman, has this to say: “Usually, people use this phrase to set up a statement that might be inconsistent with the goals they are trying to achieve.” Hmm. To be perfectly honest with you, I’m not sure that’s how I’ve heard it used. Still, he redeems himself later with the wise words “It goes without saying that we should always be honest – it’s much easier to remember what we’ve said when we are!”

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