Ever get caught in a situation where you can’t tell if the other person’s being serious, or if they’re simply that dumb? Maybe they make a wild claim about how many cars could probably fit into an average 7-Elevan parking lot—they say 130, and with a serious face. Or maybe the person makes a wildly inaccurate statement about an historical person place or thing; like, for example, maybe they say that “George Washington was a short, short man.”
It’s wrong, but not quite wrong enough so that it was obviously meant as a joke. Like, if your friend had said, “George Washington was Chinese,” you’d know he was obviously making a joke and you could feel free to laugh and slap him on the shoulder. But George Washington being short? You’re pretty sure he was a tall man. However you’ve no hard evidence handy readily available to prove this. So you can’t tell if you’re friend is screwing with you, or if he really believes that George was vertically challenged, or even if George actually was short and you’re the one who’s wrong.
So many questions! How are you possibly supposed to respond to your friend’s statement? You’re scared of a) embarrassing him by correcting him or b) looking like you don’t “get” his sarcasm or c) revealing your own ignorance vis a vis George Washington’s officially recorded height. But, hell, you have to say something. He’s looking at you like a kid anxious for his report card!
I have a solution for you. It’s a major life hack. I call it “hiding in hyperbole.” Basically, if you’re uncertain as to the jokingness or rightness or wrongness of a friend’s statement and you’re scared to show your hand, simply respond with a hyperbolic statement. Something obviously exaggerated and silly—it’s the safest way out. In the George Washington example, you’d respond with something like, “Oh yeah, he was real short. I hear he was four foot seven. That’s why the Brits kept missing him.”
Now the ball’s back in your friend’s court. He’ll have to show his hand. Was he joking? Was he serious? Here’s where you find out. Your friend might say something like, “Haha, well not that short but, seriously, he was kinda short. I saw it on the History channel.” Okay, so clearly your friend truly believes his own bizarre statement. This doesn’t mean it’s true—your friend was probably watching the History channel high as a kite. You don’t have to agree with him.
But at least now you know you’re supposed to pretend to agree with him in order to finally change the freaking subject already. “Ah, interesting,” you might say. “I’ve never heard that before.” You’ve survived the episode without incriminating yourself. A transcript of the event would show that you never technically agreed with him.
Or maybe your friend was never serious about George Washington being short. Maybe your friend has a weirdly developed sense of humor where he doesn’t quite make his jokes jokey enough to register to others as real jokes. I’ve known many people like this. I call this “ambiguous stupidity,” when you can’t tell if a person’s being funny or if they’re actually that stupid, the confusion stemming from the fact that it’s indeed possible the person is that stupid. It’s not much of a stretch.
But fear not. By hiding in hyperbole you’ll likely expose your friend’s misfired joke for what it is. After you make your hyperbolic statement about four foot seven George Washington, your friend might simply laugh along with you, as if to say, “Touche!” No, you still may not know whether your friend’s simply laughing at your isolated joke or if he’s laughing at the combined energy of your joke and his joke; it’s possible he simply thinks you’re providing some comic relief to his very serious scholarly fact.
But it doesn’t matter, because you’ve survived your obligation to respond to his initial Washington statement. Now you’re free to change the subject. Steer the conversation into safer waters. Start talking about Iron Man 2 or something.
Hiding in hyperbole is a relatively new life theory for me. It’s still in the beta testing phase, but I’m feeling good about it. I’m going to try and incorporate it into many areas of my social life. Like, if somebody asks me a simple fact about football that I should know but don’t, like “How many yards did Peyton Manning throw last season?,” I can respond with something along the lines of “Eh, I’d say about 100,000,000.” The interrogator will just laugh and move on, never once suspecting I don’t even know what a “yard” is.
Reader, ever encounter some ambiguous stupidity in your social life? How did you react?