Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Why "Expect the Unexpected" is Such a Stupid Saying

I have long disliked the saying "Expect the unexpected."

It seems I am not completely alone in this dislike. But I am, for the moment, concerned with my particular dislike of the saying.

One might as well start with the saying's origins--in a line from a play by Oscar Wilde, specifically the quip "To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect" in An Ideal Husband.

As those familiar with Wilde's work know, his stock in trade is the sort of ironic remark that made pretentious Victorians titter in their salons.

It can be very annoying. And certainly it made me annoyed with the mere mention of him. Of course, eventually I came to appreciate there was more to him than just the irony-mongering, that he did often have real insights to offer. But it was in his irony-mongering mode that Wilde was in when he wrote that line.

As a piece of Wildean irony-for-its-own-sake (of which, again, I am no fan) I think the line is just fine (if a bit shopworn and trite after so much usage).

The real problem is when--let us call them what they are, idiots--treat that saying, the provenance of which they are likely to be completely ignorant, as if it were some thoughtful, deep, meaningful, useful, actionable piece of advice (I think we can all think of examples--and if you can't, you shouldn't have any problem digging them up; just Google it and see what you get), because it is the furthest thing from that. Anyone with the most basic command of the English language should understand that by definition cannot "expect the unexpected" (or, at the very least, endeavor to offer witticisim when meaningful, useful, actionable advice is what is called for), with the result that judged by that standard the straight-faced repetition of that saying as if it were meaninfgul advice cannot be deemed anything but a confession of stupidity on the part of the speaker.

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