Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"Bless Your Heart"?

What is it called when the words you say have a meaning completely opposite from their actual  definition? Here's a for instance that is pretty innocuous. Or is it? I'm not sure.

In conversation if you tell someone something and they respond in a hearty voice with, “Good!” or "Great!" You kinda get they don't mean good or great at all. What they probably mean is, I don't have time to listen to your pathetic stories. Or, you are boring me so bad, I’d like to slap you, but I love Jesus. Or, leftovers again? Or….?

The satirist at The Cresset, (a literary and art journal published by Valparaiso University) – Tom Willadsen, wrote a little rant about what "Bless your heart," really means, and it got me thinking about my own use of handy verbal punctuation and a little habit I have of taking others to task for their use of it.

I've had some conversations about that very phrase and my friends agreed that, for example, if someone says, "Bless her heart, she's trying to lose weight" what that really means is: “I’m sure glad I’m a size 4!”  Or, “too bad she can’t stay on that diet, because she’s a big momma.” Or, “I lay money on it. She’s a closet eater.” I had already decided not to use that comment again. But there are others I need to excise. Just saying I’m not exactly snow-white here. 

Willadsen wrote:

“I now use the phrase as a verbal crossed fingers behind my back. I say “Bless your heart,: but I mean:
·      Each day in my prayers I lament that you had children, or
·      As far as I can tell, your sole purpose on the planet is to irritate everyone you encounter, or
·      Given a choice between having white-hot tungsten spikes thrust through my lungs, and accepting your invitation, I’m going with the spikes, or
·      Remember that device I told you about that measures my hostility? Your request has rendered it obsolete, or
·      I hate you.”

My thinking this is funny might reveal something twisted in me. I can yammer on about how we ought to be living and growing in the fruit of the spirit – in fact, only the other day I pressed hard on someone who was verbally unkind to another. This could be dangerous, like I’m the self-righteous, brickhead Publican dumping on the Sinner over in the corner.

On the other hand, if satire is, as the dictionary defines it, “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices;” and if satire is what Willadsen is doing, then, he succeeded and maybe we can laugh because we see ourselves and humor helps it go down a little more easily.

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