But what?

I’ve been noticing a trend where people append their sentences with “but…”, and that’s how they end their sentence. An example of this phenomenon is as follows:

“I intended to park closer to the store, but…”

When expressed in writing, the substance of the sentence ends with a comma, then the word “but” is appended, followed by an ellipsis.

When a person ends their sentence with “but”, they often look to one side, with their head leaning slightly, as though to leave the remainder of their statement to be inferred solely though their tone. Rather the finish the sentence, the speaker trails off and shifts the burden of interpreting the incomplete thought to the listeners, because the speaker cannot be bothered to properly express the thought that might not have been properly formulated in their mind to begin with. As they do so, they often smugly roll their eyes and stress the word “but” as though using such a lazy template of communication were something that they could take pride in, not respecting you enough to communicate with you as though you were their intellectual equal.

The word “but” has nearly the same meaning as “however”, and is often followed by more information that adds to or may even modify the previous statement. It may also indicate exceptions or perhaps even make contradictions to the preceding proposition. Furthermore, ellipses (…) indicates omissions; statements intentionally left incomplete.

Considering this, when a person ends a sentence with “but…”, they could be leaving out just about anything. Even important information could be omitted. So the example sentence above:

“I intended to park closer to the store, but…”

…Could have omitted the following:

  • “…I was attacked by killer ants from outer space.”
  • “…my car gave out in the middle of the parking lot.”
  • “…there are picketers outside that hate the fact that this company makes money.”
  • “…I was a little concerned with the militant, pedophile rapists that are throwing rocks at our windows.”

Why omit something that, if known, would have likely influenced decisions made by the hearers?

If you’re sick of this kind of corner-cutting in communication, there’s something you can do about it. When someone ends a sentence with “but…”, ask them “…but what?” Have them finish their own sentence. In so doing, you’ll be directing the burden back onto them of formulating their own thoughts in their own minds, where it belongs, and making them properly express that thought in the form of a complete sentence.

It might be that, after several times, they’ll get the point and stop being lazy with their communication. Or they’ll just take their lackadaisical sentence structure to someone who doesn’t mind that they’re not finishing their own sentences. In either case, you win.

If someone were to be just as lazy with other areas of their life, how would it work out for them? Imagine how they might sound confessing to it:

  • “I tied one shoe, but I didn’t tie the other one. Oops. Oh well, I’ll just leave it like that.” *
  • “I know you wanted a turkey sandwich, but I found this ‘Tofurky’ instead. Close enough, right?”
  • “I started the laundry, but then just left the wet shirts in the washer for days. Now they have mildew on them. My bad!”
  • “Yeah, the steak is underdone, but what do you expect when I only cook it in half the time! Aren’t I cute?”
  • “Yeah, I want kids, but I’m still making you pull out before you’re done.”

Like that last point, leaving sentences incomplete by ending them with “but…” is like making someone pull out before they’re done; you’re obviously not concerned with the other party’s satisfaction at all.

* Wow, that sounds stupid. It wouldn’t be surprising if that became a fad in middle schools and high schools.

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