I remember the horror of seeing my casual remarks reproduced in print for the first time. It was back in my early days as a singer (yes, I have a not-so-secret life) and the interviewer asked me how I’d gotten started. I talked about my high school musical and added, “I was the lead—of course.”
I was joking. Believe me, there was nothing inevitable about my high school stardom; in fact, until about 15 minutes before they posted the cast list, someone else had been slated to take my role. (And boy was she pissed.) In person, that “of course” was self-deprecating. But it gave the writer, who had clearly taken a dislike to me, the opportunity to skewer me in print. Which he promptly did.
It was a lesson I needed to learn. And I’m just glad I got to learn it in a tiny neighborhood publication, back when nothing got archived on the internet, rather than, say, The New York Times today.
Casual remarks: a checklist
Here are four things to think about when unleashing the folksiness I wrote about yesterday or making casual remarks in what might not be a casual situation:
Audience: You need to think about more than how your words will play to the first audience. You need to consider how subsequent audiences will react to them. Especially in the internet age, content can migrate across platforms easily and quickly.
Editing: Can your words be taken out of context or filtered in an unflattering light? If a self-deprecating comment slips out, call attention to it. Try to avoid sarcasm. You’ve probably experienced how poorly it translates in email. It can be even worse in an interview or an article someone might write about a speech you’ve given.
Appropriateness: We all love to tell old stories, but review your mental story bank from time to time to make sure it still fits the prevailing sensibility.
People: It’s probably best to avoid folksy comments that refer to human beings. I recently used the standard colloquial phrase “she’s your gal” in a blog and a friend gently reminded me that the world doesn’t hear the word “women” used nearly often enough. It’s a fair point. So you don’t have to be an 82-year-old billionaire dude to misread changes in the Zeitgeist. Even a fairly “woke,” longtime feminist like me can do it.
Seriously…it’s still okay to be funny
Keep your sense of humor—these days, laughter feels like the crocus leaves poking through the snow of our lives: an unexpected and welcome sign that maybe beauty and grace will return to the world some day.
Just don’t use your folksy language to hurt someone. The reputation you damage might be your own. And, almost as bad, you could step on your message, too.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be better at writing than at Candy Crush? The Bennett Ink 90-Day Writing Challenge—it’s time to get serious.