When you live in a cabbage field and have no money, you have to make your own entertainment. Over the years I have developed a number of inappropriate hobbies. One of my favourite is paraphrasing what people are waffling into its core meaning, to reveal what they’re really saying. It costs me nothing (beyond occasional bouts of irritation), it doesn’t require any specialist equipment, and I don’t even have to leave the house to do it. I highly recommend it.

This is how it works. Someone says something that doesn’t quite sit right with me. It may not quite make sense, or bring about an emotional response apparently out of sync with current events: either way, it sticks in my throat. What I do is look at it closely, turn it into its component parts, paraphrase it, and repeat it back. The vast majority of the time, doing so reveals the source of my inability to swallow it.

A classic one we get at work (animal care) is people asking us to open early. We open at 8:30, but they need to leave for their trip at 6:00, so couldn’t we… Just this once… As requests go, I’d be tempted to class it as ludicrous straight up – do these people go to a supermarket and expect it to open at their convenience? When I disentangle the details of it all, it gets even more irritating. A simple solution to the problem of needing to leave early would be to bring the animals over the day before. That would incur a charge, though. So what these people are asking me, in their circuitous ways, is “could you start work 2 hrs + early so I can pay you less money?”

When I repeat their request back to them in those terms, those people deny sternly that it’s what they meant. It is, however, precisely what they are asking for. Whether they are doing so deliberately or because they haven’t thought it through is a different story, but not one that interests me that much. I am dealing with their behaviour, not their motivations, excuses, history, etc. We’re not close enough for any of that to matter. And, because of their behaviour, both in making the demand and in denying that it’s what they’re demanding, we’re never going to be any closer. I’m shutting the door on that.

With practice comes ease. These days, when someone wants me to write something so they can put it behind a paywall, I straight-up ask them: “So you want me to work for you for free, so you can sell my work for a profit?” Most of them deny it, but it makes them go away, so, yannow, I’m happy.

The game has worked well for me outside of work. Recently a prominent self-defence instructor came out with a length and rather convoluted public statement about gender-non-conforming individuals. He doesn’t have a problem with gay marriage, ’cause he’s all open-minded and shit. He doesn’t even have a problem with transsexuals: if a dude wants to be referred to as Mrs., he’s willing to indulge their delusion. Those gender-non-conforming individuals, though, there’s no way of knowing how to deal with them. They are making their own problems by being who they are. If they would only pick a damn gender, then their problems would disappear.

I read the lengthy waffle and paraphrased it thusly: “My problem with non-binary people is that they are non-binary. If they only stopped being non-binary, I would not have a problem with them.”

Put like that, the statement makes it quite obvious why the guy hasn’t been offered his own float at the local Pride parade. Things get even more interesting if you substitute pretty much any other term for “non-binary”. “My problem with gay people…” “…with Jews…” etc. The bigotry inbuilt in that circular way of thinking becomes pretty obvious, and, from my point of view, pretty damning. I’m sure the guy in question would disagree. I’m not sure I care.

Paraphrasing is also a great way to deal with people who try to get away with name-calling by using fancy terms. They’re not calling you “stupid”, they’re calling you “educationally subnormal”! That’s not an insult, it’s just a fact! Why are you getting so pissed off?!




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