Friday 25 August 2023

Grammar: Nuance

When you're losing the argument, you can always reach for the word "nuance":

nuance, reality is more nuanced: Often used as a “get out of jail free” card. Can also mean “imaginary”, “metaphorical”, “intuitive”, “counterintuitive”, “watered-down”, “insoluble moral problem” or “This statement means whatever I want it to mean”. Or may just mean “Freud spouted a lot of tosh, but he had a few good ideas”. Or “Nobody has a monopoly on the truth”. Or “Nature acquaints us with strange bedfellows”. Or “I’m not going to stand here and say it is or it isn’t”. Or “Your completely opposed view does NOT trump mine!” Simply put, it means: “I’m right, so ner!”

nuance II: I am going to use this word with several different meanings, but I'm not going to tell you which, and will swap retrospectively if the going gets tough.

nuance III: A call for more “nuance” may be like the astrology apologist’s last-ditch defence: “Won’t you even admit there might be something in it?” Does it even mean that two contradictory statements can co-exist? Or does it mean “so generalised as to be undisprovable”? 

nuance IV: I am just going to restate the proposition you don’t agree with in a kinder, gentler way.

nuanced, subtle: indirect, oblique, nonverbal, euphemistic, subtextual, deep, carefully hidden (Or perhaps “sees both sides, foresees knock-on effects, aware of pros and cons”. Or "You may feel differently when you hear about my feelings and back story.")

nuanced, subtle II: fudged, deliberately ambiguous, obfuscation, misdirection, dogwhistle, subtext, hints, leaves the door open for a quick retreat. Could be taken either way (so I can’t lose). Statements that can be neither falsified nor confirmed (so we can carry on waffling until the cows come home, or the end of time, whichever is sooner). I daren’t come right out and say it because it’s probably illegal, or I might be attacked. Deniable in case the argument doesn’t go my way. Ultimately, “nuanced” means “slippery as a blob of mercury”. Or even “snide”.

Update, 2021: “Nuanced” is being used to mean “but this cloud has a silver lining”. Perhaps they just mean “contradictory”, or even “paradoxical”.

Archbishop Wake in 1718, when speaking of the 39 Articles, wrote: We have left every one to interpret them in his own sense; and they are indeed so generally framed, that they may, without an equivocation, have more senses than one fairly put upon them. (@RyanNDanker)

More tips on what to say when losing the argument here.
All this and much much more in my book on euphemisms and their opposite, Boo & Hooray.

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