too often people talk to me starting a sentence with “You know, they said/want/need…”. And then I abruptly stop them with a simple question: “They who?“. After this, I don’t allow any further conversation until I get an answer (unless, of course, “they” was an entirely legit use of the pronoun and it was evident who was being referred to).
Well, you may argue against me that this behaviour is childish… and I don’t totally disagree. However, there are at least three reasons while I feel that clarifying the sentence is more often a good idea rather than not.
First, and entirely my fault, I don’t think I’m good at grokking allusions. Or, I have a different internal wiring for allusions than other people. I prefer to being reputed slow in understanding now and then, than having proven to be reliably wrong! “I don’t know / I’m not sure = I ask” is a way of living for me. Moreover, I plain hate allusions! Come on, state it straight if you have the bollocks!
Second, I like to put myself into the shoes of other people, and it’s hard to do that if you are dealing with an unknown group of uncountable faceless entities! I want to explore their motives, ponder the question from their point of view, feel what they feel. How else could I brew a proposal/solution/consideration that is useful and, more important, taken into account? If you come up with the best course of action, but it is not acted upon, you have failed. Sometimes it’s better to have something imperfect that is put into action, rather than the perfect-but-never-used theoretical best.
Third, I like precision, especially when it’s cheap to get. Asking your interlocutor to clarify a passage forces him to think it over, examining once more the most important aspects. If there is no clarity from the start, things can only get worse going on.
“They” also seems to imply a separation from “us”, rather than infusing a sense of belonging together. I leave it to the song “Them or Us” to clarify the concept:
(Were you expecting a quote? Sorry pal, it’s an instrumental!)
Frank Zappa – Them or Us – 1984
Until next time, remember what they said.