Plain Speaking Doesn’t Mean Honest

Honest Tale Plainly Told William Shakespeare Richard III

See “Get on with it.”

In our culture, there’s an automatic assumption that plain speaking means someone is being honest. Surely, no one would be that blunt (A.K.A. rude) unless they meant what they were saying! Nope. Just like roundabout speaking doesn’t necessarily mean someone is lying, plain speaking doesn’t mean honest.

Other Reasons for Plain Speaking

  1. Lying: People think that people who are blunt are honest, right? Let say someone wants to lie to you, but he doesn’t want to get caught. One easy way to trick you into believing him is to be so blunt that you assume he’s telling the truth. As long as no one’s too offended by that bluntness, he’s not losing anything.
    • Manipulation: A big reason to lie to people is to manipulate them. Plain speaking is good for that, especially when you’re trying to piss someone off or calm them down.
      • You see this in stories when the characters need to piss someone off as part of a distraction or strategic fight. They figure out the person’s weakness, and then bluntly point it out to them. Do they have to mean what they say? Nope. But plain speaking can be very efficient for making people mad.
      • Same for calming someone down in an emergency situation. Tell them something they want to believe in a calm, straightforward manner, and there’s a good chance they’ll think you’re telling the truth.
  2. Nerves: When some people are nervous, they blurt out the first thing they don’t even remember thinking. Things they definitely don’t mean. It’s a knee-jerk reaction from adrenaline. It’s like it short-circuits the brain.
  3. Anger: Ever get in a fight and straight-out tell someone something you know they’ll hate, true or not? It’s because when people are mad and fighting, they don’t care about the truth – they care about winning and getting in an equal number of hits.
  4. Humor: It’s the art of the unexpected. Being blunt is a great way to surprise people, and if the plain speaking involves something outrageous, all the better.

Reasons for Honest Circumlocution

  1. Nerves: Some people say short, dishonest things. Other people babble. Let’s get real. Add a little babbling, and you can speak paragraphs of a truth that would normally fit in 3 words.
  2. Politeness: Don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or offend somebody? Well, you can either lie or try to put the truth in the nicest possible way. See “political correctness” (A.K.A. an ever-changing set of rules that give people excuses to yell at you).
  3. Impact: Sometimes, people want to make an impression. They want to sound smarter, more professional, whatever, so what do they do? They use as many big words and phrases as possible. Maybe, it’s from reading too many math books or old texts in school. I don’t know.
  4. Ambiguity: Legalese, misdirection, or manipulation – sometimes, a character may not want to tell someone the truth in an easily-defined way. In legalese, deliberate vagueness is a way of covering situations that the writer didn’t think of (They hope.). In art, it’s a way of leaving the creation open to interpretation. In fiction, a character may be physically unable to lie yet doesn’t want to give up friends to the bad guy (Like Pinocchio in Shrek 3).

In short (ha), there are plenty of different ways to tell the truth, and there are ways to use plain speaking to be dishonest. And since writers don’t have to tell honest tales, you can use as many of these options with your characters as fits your story (Admit it – that’s a lot happier than thinking of the real-life applications!).

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