I often assume people mean the opposite of what they say.
A mother furious at her daughter as she packs boxes of her things before leaving for college: “I can’t have your stuff cluttering up my house any longer. You need to get it out of here so I can get on with my life.”
Translation: I’m angry because I feel like I need to have your stuff cluttering up my house. I’m afraid if you get it out of here, I’ll have to get on with my life.
One friend to another whom she hasn’t seen in a long time: “Wow. You look really good. I mean, since I saw you last … You’re like, a completely different person. I’m so happy for you.”
Translation: Wow. You look really different. Remember the last time I saw you? No matter how much you think you can change, I’ll keep reminding you of who you were. I’m not happy for you at all.
Roman Polanski to Martin Amis, in an interview in 1979: “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But … fucking, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to fuck young girls. Juries want to fuck young girls. Everyone wants to fuck young girls!” (via Telegraph UK)
Translation: If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? Judges don’t want to fuck young girls. Juries don’t want to fuck young girls. Not everyone wants to fuck young girls. But I do. That’s the kind of thing that makes me special, above judgement, and worthy of all the attention I receive.
We still get the point. Because human communication is subtle and complicated and interesting. And we’re crack detectives on the case.
Great dialogue happens in the spaces between the notes, when what the audience gets to fill in on our own is far richer than anything we hammer home on the page. Because the audience are always the smartest people in the room, and whenever we let them rise to the occasion to fill in the gaps, leap leaps, imagine what’s left unsaid and bridge the ineffable, our stories live.
Anyone want to chime in with more examples of opposite-talk?