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You Know What I Mean

January 17, 2016
I might never know what James Joyce meant, but most communication is more basic.

I might never know what James Joyce meant, but most communication is more basic than this.

Even though I can come across as easygoing, I don’t like to get corrected over nitpicky details.

I was at work on a Friday a few weeks ago, and I was late on a project.  It wasn’t my fault I was late.  The person responsible for the project is notoriously sloppy with details, so I had to doublecheck everything, and he was late sending me his numbers, and that put me in a bad position.  I could either tell my boss that the other guy was slow (thus endangering the other guy’s job) or I could keep my mouth shut.  My own job wasn’t in danger because my current boss understands I correct other people’s mistakes, which in the long-term makes his own bosses leave him alone.

Anyway, when I was talking to my boss, I said something like: “I’ll have everything done tomorrow.”

Before I could correct myself, my boss said, “You mean Monday.”

My boss was right.  I had meant Monday, so I smiled and nodded.

I really wanted to say, “You know what I mean.”

But I didn’t.  That kind of response can be misinterpreted.  My boss and I get along, but I’ve seen a co-worker get fired for saying James Franco sucks, so I’m polite.  Luckily, being polite is easy for me.

The thing is, when it’s Friday, and I say “tomorrow,” everybody knows what I mean, but almost everybody will correct me anyway.  Very few people in our office work on Saturday.  It wouldn’t make sense for us to work on Saturday.  Sometimes we work really late during the week to avoid working on Saturday.  Therefore, when I say “tomorrow,” the Monday should be implied.

I know that precision in language is important.  I’ve read The Giver.  I understand that I must be very deliberate with my words.  But this was the conversational spoken word.  Conversation is meant to be somewhat sloppy.  To me, it’s the written word which should be so precise.  If I had written an email to my boss, I would have written Monday.  You don’t want to make mistakes in writing because you can think out your words more carefully and the written word lasts forever.

Maybe I should start saying “You know what I mean!” in these situations, but that could backfire.  “You know what I mean!” sounds similar to “You know what I mean?” but the two have completely different meanings.  You only say “You know what I mean?” if you’re pretty sure nobody knows what you’re talking about or if you’re rambling.  That’s why I hesitate to say “You know what I mean!”  Even with lots of inflection, “You know what I mean!” could be misinterpreted as “You know what I mean?”  That would only make the situation worse.

I decided to try saying “You know what I mean!” (in a gentle way) the next time the situation came up.  One evening I was talking to my wife about our oldest daughter (who wasn’t in the room) and I accidentally used our youngest daughter’s name.  It was obvious that I had meant my oldest daughter.  We had been talking about our oldest daughter, and it was a situation that could have involved only our oldest daughter, but when I said our youngest daughter’s name, my wife still corrected me.

“You mean__________,” she said, referring to our oldest daughter.

“You know what I mean,” I said gently.

“I was just making sure,” my wife said.  “And you don’t need to get snippy about it.”

I thought, snippy?  Maybe I had better not try saying “You know what I mean!” at work.  I wouldn’t want to seem snippy, especially to my boss.

Yesterday was a Friday.  My sloppy coworker was late on whatever it was he was supposed to have me check.  I wasn’t mad or annoyed because he was actually putting more effort into it than he usually does.  When I asked him if it was ready, he said, “I’ll have it for you tomorrow.”

Instead of correcting him, I patted him on the shoulder and said, “That’s okay.  You can have it on Monday.”

I think I surprised him, not with my words, but by touching him.  I hardly ever touch anybody.  I don’t act familiar with people I don’t know well.  I also delivered my response with a monotone voice, so he couldn’t tell if I was serious or not.  Did he think I really thought he meant Saturday?

Either way, he knows I’m not coming into work on Saturday.  Most importantly, I know I didn’t come across as snippy.

*****

What do you think?  In what situations would would you want to say “You know what I mean!”?  Does saying “You know what I mean!” come across as defensive?  Is saying “You know what I mean!” worth the effort, or should I just leave it alone?

From → Dysfunctileaks

25 Comments
  1. depends on the person and the situation. When my husband gets on a hair splitting roll (which is what I kind of think of that sort of correction as from him) eventually I give him the look and then when he continues, as he always does, I will finally say “you have got to be shitting me with this, go be a barber.” Then we laugh and he says sorry. Other people I try to gauge if they’re really confused or trying to make me feel dumb. Then I respond accordingly.

    • I can say “You have got to be shitting with me” to my wife, but I can’t say that at work. I agree with you about gauging and acting accordingly.

      • technically with some stretch of the imagination, my husband is my boss. LOL. But we don’t all have that situation.

  2. LOL who got fired for saying James Franco sucks? I’d like to meet that boss.

    • One of my bosses a few years ago claimed to have been friends with James Franco in college. He was a young guy hired right after he’d graduated, and he overheard one of my co-workers saying “James Franco sucks” after a meeting.

      My boss took it personally. He didn’t fire the co-worker on the spot, but when the guy got escorted out a few weeks later, all of us knew why.

      • Lol and now your co-worker has a legitimate reason to hate James Franco. He got fired by Franco’s friend.

  3. In the same way that “you know what I mean!” and “you know what I mean?” are different, we also have “you mean Monday?” and “you mean Monday.” But when it’s the boss talking, I think either one means I need it Friday.

  4. Did someone really get fired for saying James Franco sucks?

    • We can’t prove it, but all of us know it’s true. When my boss overheard a co-worker muttering “James Franco sucks,” this boss suddenly got hyper-critical of this co-worker, blamed him for a bunch of stuff that (probably) wasn’t his fault, gave him a bad evaluation, and everything spiraled out of control until the Franco-hater was escorted from the building.

      This boss claimed to have been friends with James Franco in college, but I’m not sure. When I told this boss that I’d read Palo Alto, he looked at me blankly.

  5. “You know what I mean” does sound snippy. If they’re correcting you – and they’re not misunderstanding you as they do it, they obviously know what you mean. Of course, if they’re intentionally misinterpreting what you’re trying to say, and you know they are, and they know that you know they are…actually, this is getting complicated, so I’d just go with a “Yes”.

  6. I think the person pointing out the mistake is getting off on some ego trip by correcting the obvious. So to say, “You know what I mean,” is calling them on it. I think that’s legitimate, but it’s also asking for a tiff… Not good with a boss or lover.

    My standard retort is, “My mistake. Yes. Monday.” Or whatever actual word was obviously implied. It’s very short, professional and non emotional. It’s also my way of over correcting so we both feel vindicated- the jerk for pointing out that “Tomorrow” is obviously the next work day,(Duh) and you being overly polite as a way to say in your head, “Wow… this person is being rigid. Let me give back and equally rigid response.”

    And then there’s the very vague “Noted.” I like that one, too. 🙂

    • I like “Noted.” I’m the kind of guy who can say “Noted,” though I also might come across as pompous and not know it.

      “My mistake” is also good. I can admit my own mistakes, especially if it’s momentarily mistaking Saturday for Monday on a Friday. If that’s my worst mistake on a particular day, I’ll take it.

      • I knew a guy who would say, “Noted” and it cracked me up! In retrospect, he was probably an Aspie. But he was so eccentric, it was endearing to me.

        He wore an ascot. No joke.

        Maybe you should carry around a pipe in your pocket. Next time, someone points out your fault, pull it out, put it in the corner of your mouth and say, “Noted” in your best Thurston Howell III drawl. : D

  7. What do I think? Whatever. (:))

    • I’m not sure saying “Whatever” is a good idea. I think saying “Whatever” would get me fired. I’m pretty sure saying it to my wife would escalate any disagreement we might have.

      I might think “whatever,” though.

  8. I know what you mean.

  9. This is true for most Germans (not just bosses) I know! 🙂

    • Argh. That was supposed to be a reply to your answer to Walt Walker’s comment…

  10. And if you just say, “yes”..?

  11. I think it all has to do with the tone of your voice, but I would say it is for informal use. When i imagine someone saying “You know what I mean!”, it’s out of agitation, or impatience, accompanied with an eye-roll. Maybe it’s because that’s how I would use it haha. Now that I think about it, I haven’t had to use that expression in a long time, and I’m really hoping I don’t start after reading this… It would be such a bad habit to break.
    But if you insist on using it, you could try saying “ah, yes. That’s what I meant to say. Thank you,” instead after the correction. Always polite.

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