Declaring your honesty isn’t always best policy

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Being someone who works with words day and daily I have something of a love/hate relationship with the English language.

While my heart pounds with love for such words as ‘woebegone’, ‘invigorate’ and ‘slab’, contrastingly there are certain words that make my blood boil.

My top three most hated words at the minute are ‘to’, ‘be’ and ‘honest’, not so much individually but when used consecutively in that order.

‘To be honest’ is a phrase that has always annoyed me.

There are very limited occasions when it’s acceptable to start a sentence in such a fashion.

For example when softening the blow of a life-changing revelation...

“To be honest I only married you for your money.”

Or when making a frank statement to the press...

“To be honest I’m completely out of my depth here and I was much happier managing Everton.”

What grinds my gears about the use of the phrase ‘to be honest’ as a starting point for a sentence, is that 99 times out of 100 it is totally unnecessary.

Two women in Tesco were having a conversation in the dairy aisle one of the last times I was in the store.

I happened to overhear a snippet of their conversation which went like this...

“I don’t know whether to buy a tub of butter or the foiled-wrapped pack. The block in foil is cheaper, but the tub is easier to spread.”

Her friend replied, “To be honest I prefer margarine to butter.”

Now, I’m guessing most readers find absolutely nothing untoward about this conversation.

They couldn’t be further from the truth.

The first lady, torn between two different butter options, had issued a passioned cry for help.

In response her friend, who isn’t proving to be much of a friend, has brought a third consideration into the mix, and, by way of her turn of phrase, has thrown her own integrity into doubt.

I can’t have been the only eavesdropper to pick up the fact that by choosing to starting her sentence with ‘to be honest’, she was flirting with the implication that all her regular sentences that start without the honesty warning can’t be trusted.

And if this is the case then I find it hard to believe she genuinely preferred margarine to butter. I was shopping in East Belfast for goodness sake!

What I’m getting at, in a very roundabout way, is that phrases like ‘to be honest’ are totally superfluous in the majority of contexts in which they’re used.

As someone who has been a vociferous supporter of language for the vast majority of my life, often urging it on with the aid of a corncrake, it pains me greatly to see words used wastefully, spat from mouths like gristle and pips.

I’ve also noticed ‘to be honest’ cropping up as ‘tbh’ on Twitter and in text messages in a bid to save space.

This makes me approximately three times as angry as before.

As I’ve already said, ‘to be honest’ is a totally unnecessary, pithy turn of phrase, so the very notion of saving on space by reducing it to a three letter word is ludicrous. By not using it at all you’re saving even more space. In fact if your intended Tweet/text contains the abbreviated phrase ‘tbh’ there’s a good chance you could just delete the whole thing and the world would carry on regardless.