non-literal language

Words can be misleading

Words that have the same sort of semantic shape can mean radically different things. It doesn’t matter what they logically should mean. It matters what they actually do mean.

For instance: “pride”

  • Gay pride means asserting that gay people are legitimate and have the right to live and love
  • Straight pride means asserting that straight people are better than gay people

It’s important to understand how words are actually used. If you rely too much on logic rather than actual usage, you can end up inadvertently saying really hateful things.

I often have problems with phrases that are literally neutral, but have negative connotations. For example: for years, I thought ‘forget about it’ was a polite way to tell someone that they didn’t have to worry about a situation. Eventually, I realized this was insulting. If possible, could you please list some more phrases that are literally neutral but have negative connotations? Possible with the connotative definition?
Realsocialskills answered:
Most of these aren’t always negative, but they can have negative connotations depending on context and tone. 
  • That’s nice (“I don’t care”)
  • Uh huh (“I don’t believe you and/or I wish you’d shut up about this”)
  • Fine (Can be taken to mean “I’m not ok with this, but I’d rather put up with it than discuss it further. I’m probably going to stay mad about this”
  • Whatever (“I don’t respect your opinion and want you to shut up about it”)
  • Never mind (“I wish you’d shut up.” or “You’re obviously not going to do anything worthwhile about this, so I want to drop the subject”)
  • I hope you’re happy (“You’re doing a stupid thing that I have contempt for”)
  • Duly noted (“I don’t care”)
  • It doesn’t matter (“It matters, but I don’t respect you enough to say why”)
  • I guess (“I don’t think I agree, but I don’t want to say why”)
  • Thanks for sharing (“What you said was inappropriately personal”)
  • Interesting (“That’s boring, annoying, or offensive, and I would like you to stop talking about it”)
  • Really? (In certain tones it can mean “I don’t believe you and can’t believe you would say such a stupid thing” or “I think you’re lying to me and I’m angry about that.” It doesn’t always have that kind of connotation, though - it can also just be a way of expressing surprise.)
  • Good luck with that (“That’s a stupid idea” or “That’s going to fail and I can’t believe you’re trying it”)
  • If you say so (“I don’t believe you and can’t believe you would say such a stupid thing”)


children of the stars: Supporting people who are overly apologetic




Some people apologize all the time, for everything. This can be very annoying.

Here’s a conversation:

  • Mary: I like ice cream. I don’t want to order a slice of cake. I’m sorry.
  • Darlene: Dude, you don’t have to apologize!
  • Mary:…

A lot of the time, when I over-apologize, I don’t even mean it. I say “I’m sorry” reflexively, like “how are you?”; it doesn’t actually mean anything.

So sometimes it’ll go like this:

  • me, “sorry”
  • person “Oh, it wasn’t your fault”
  • me (thinking) “No shit it wasn’t my fault, jerk”

But yeah, getting annoyed at over-apologizing won’t help, thanks for posting this.




Social skills for autonomous people: Non-literal greetings



In the US, certain things are ritual greetings that follow a standard script. Deviating from it is considered a bit weird (but it’s also common, and possible to get away with. I deviate from it often).

“How are you?” is not usually intended as a real…

A lot of time the answer to what’s up, is what’s up. You don’t even answer, you just ask the question back.

Oh yeah, I forgot that sometimes you don’t even answer. I remember when that started to be the case - it really weirded me out.

But yes, sometimes the expected answer is just “What’s up" back. Does it bother people when you answer “not much, you?“ and they’re expecting “what’s up?” repeated?

Woah, I’ve never encountered that. Maybe it’s not common where I live, or maybe I just haven’t been paying attention. Sometimes I mix up the order of the ritual greeting & answer “How are you?“ with “How are you?” but that’s a mistake, not on purpose. So if anyone’s ever just said “what’s up" back to me I probably interpreted it as a mistake.

But yeah, context is important. I’m getting better at telling whether people want to just greet & move on, exchange 20 seconds of pleasantries, or actually talk for a couple minutes - and I don’t want to intrude, so I don’t actually answer the question unless they actually seem inquisitive.

I wish I knew how to explain what “seeming inquisitive” looks like. I can usually tell, but I don’t know how to explain it. Do you know how to tell?