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Clearly not

Watching the news on the BBC frequently in the last few months means that - strangely enough - I regularly see British politicians interviewed. And this has led me to an increasing dislike of the adverb "clearly".

Inevitably, it's used in situations such as "as I have clearly said".

Firstly, we are none of us best-placed to judge the clarity of our own language use to others.

Secondly, if you have to tell other people you were being clear, you're being condescending. It's telling them they're too stupid or inattentive to have realized on their own how effective your communication was.

Until now, I'd never realized how insulting nominal clarity could be.

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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
sollersuk
Nov. 25th, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
It's up there among my biggest peeves, together with starting a sentence with "Look", which rightly or wrongly I find insufferably patronising.
nojay
Nov. 25th, 2012 04:38 pm (UTC)
It's a British English thing -- the pol is emphasising that they have said whatever before and it is on the record somewhere. The use of "clearly" doesn't insinuate that the putative listener can't understand what they are talking about in the interview.

My vocabulary bugbear comes from radio where leading questions often result in the interviewee beginning their reply with "Absolutely".
sollersuk
Nov. 25th, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
I'm British and I find it offensive, and judging from their faces the interviewers aren't too happy with it either.
vschanoes
Nov. 25th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
Secondly, if you have to tell other people you were being clear, you're being condescending. It's telling them they're too stupid or inattentive to have realized on their own how effective your communication was.

That is always what I intend to convey when I use it, personally.
makyo
Nov. 25th, 2012 06:41 pm (UTC)
It's a word that turns up in the mathematical literature quite a lot, and very early during my graduate studies one of my supervisor's other students cautioned me against it. "Colin hates that by the way" he said. "If it is clear then you should add a short sentence to say why, and if you can't then it's not". I've tried to follow this advice since.
sollersuk
Nov. 25th, 2012 07:02 pm (UTC)
I've just remembered the story of the 19th century mathematics lecturer who at one point said "And it is obvious that...", ground to a halt, muttered "excuse me" and hurried out of the room.

Half an hour later he came back in and said, "Yes, gentlemen, it is obvious"
makyo
Nov. 25th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
Yes, I like that story, although it seems to be one of those untraceable apocryphal academic legends like the Oxbridge don cheerfully lecturing to a completely empty room, the student who calls for cakes and ale during an exam and is later fined for not wearing his sword, or the university where nobody wears mortarboards now because disgruntled fellows threw theirs in the river when the senate decided to admit women students.

The half-hour detour incident in your story has never happened to me, although there have been a few occasions when I've looked at what I've just written, thought about what I've just said, or stared at my slides for a few seconds and thought "hang on... is that actually right?" before then either realising it is, or spotting the error and correcting it.
sollersuk
Nov. 25th, 2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
My late husband was a mathematician, and the story has the ring of truth to me - "obvious" and "clear" are words that exist in a parallel dimension for mathematicians. Also the idea that if something is aesthetically pleasing it has a high likelihood of being true.
miss_whiplash
Sep. 3rd, 2013 08:34 pm (UTC)
We had a physical chemistry tutor at Kingston poly who was fond of the word. We invented a game; on the 18th time he said it in any lesson we would all put up our hands and ask why it was obvious.

We'd done the statistics in the first four weeks and decided we were reasonably likely to do it most lessons unless he modified his behaviour.

He never did.
whatifoundthere
Nov. 25th, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)
I agree with the commenter above me who says that "clearly" is okay if you explain your logic; to me it suggests "you can see how the result follows from these steps". That's how I used it in my own academic writing, anyway. Now, how about "needless to say"? :)
Bill Olander
Nov. 25th, 2012 08:14 pm (UTC)
I've been using 'clearly' for a while now. So much so that Alyson makes fun of me every time I use it. The one that kills me is "Now, more than ever..."
highlyeccentric
Nov. 25th, 2012 09:31 pm (UTC)
My honours-year mentorperson made me delete every instance of the word 'clearly' or 'obviously' from my thesis. If it was that clear, apparently, I shouldn't need to say so.
hawkida
Nov. 27th, 2012 01:00 pm (UTC)
The one that annoys me along these lines is "of course" used on Radio 4 to excess. "And here we have guest X who is, of course, famous for Y". Oh, of course, yes, it's obvious.

So why did you have to state it?

The effect is to either irritate because there was no need to explain if it was obvious, or to patronise because you're supposed to somehow have this information already and don't.
naxos
Dec. 1st, 2012 03:03 pm (UTC)
The "clearly" thing happens far too much at work, where I agree that good communication is much lacking (don't start me on jargon and powerpoint).

As for the mathematical aspect, if a piece of symbolic is reasoning is truly clear then it follows trivially and any note to that effect is superfluous and best avoided I say!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )