Two memories from my youth relate to this post. I recall my mother frequently telling me that I was contrary. She would say, “Now Billy, stop being so contrary.” She could have chosen from many words: obstinate, difficult, stubborn, negative, or silly. Actually, that’s not true. She used silly a lot, as in, “Silly-Billy.” I actually liked being called silly and still do. Today, such a fun-loving attitude coupled with silly behavior would prevent a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).
As a youngster, I did have more than my share of confrontations with adults, especially those in positions of authority. I admit it. Mom was right (aren’t they all?). I was often contrary and many synonymous terms applied equally well. I confess that I enjoyed being difficult, most of the time. Sometimes, I paid for it. Some say I never outgrew my contrarian attitude.
The other memory comes from the time of my early to mid-teens. I don’t know where if came from, but we adapted a phrase for a while that was intentionally meaningless, but we said it – a lot. It was kind of an early version of whatever! We would say it to each other and often to adults. We always knew exactly what the adult retort would be. The locution was Yeah, but, or yeahbut. Today, the Urban Dictionary says yeahbut should be followed by f**k, but we seldom used those words in combination.
Most often, but is used as a conjunction to introduce something contrasting with what has already been mentioned. Adults insisted on asking, “But what?” We knew we were pushing buttons when we looked them straight in the eye and answered, “Yeahbut.” Silly kids, right? I confess to deliberately irritating adults given any opportunity.
However; yet, nevertheless, nonetheless, even so, still, notwithstanding, in spite of that, for all that, and all the same; I do like butts. Some more than others.
But this is about me being a but man. As I said, but is usually used as a conjunction. It is also used as a preposition (anyone but him), an adverb (to name but a few), or a noun (no buts, you’re buying). Add a t and it becomes slang for a body part. But is a useful word.
It is also a word that I overuse. In my writing and speaking, I am rightfully criticized for saying but too often. Twenty-one times out of 350 words so far in this post. But, it is the subject, after all (22). When I edit, I look for the buts and remove or change as many as I can. But not in this post. At the beginning of a sentence, that is most often when it is there, it changes nothing in terms of meaning. My use is not always as a contrasting conjunction. But there’s more.
I am a quiet, introverted man by nature. I’m not very shy. The larger and less familiar the group, the quieter I will be. I am happy to let anyone banter endlessly about virtually any topic with no sound from me. I listen closely and analytically (Usually – some might say I don’t listen at all). At some point I might say it. In one-on-one conversations; especially the heated, no attributions kind we have with trusted friends, I will eventually say something. My comments in such environs are often preceded with facial expressions and perhaps a raised eye-brow or two. Then out it comes.
“Yeah, but….” (or just but). Sometimes I fancy it up with things like however, on the other hand, consider this, did you know, or maybe so, but…. I can also be passive aggressive with things I learnt from the younger folk like whatever, ya think?, really?, or my personal favorite: No shit? I like to add Sherlock to that last one, but only when it wouldn’t be offensive (accidentally).
A couple of weeks past, I got to listen to my middle child (now 42) recite a verbal rampage on his view of politics and life, with all the arm waving and facial expressions to have gone viral, had I recorded and posted it.
I really enjoyed listening, even though I couldn’t get a word in until he finished. It was an enjoyable banter, indeed. To be fair, I could see myself. When he finished, I smiled at him and said, “Wow!” and tried not to roll my eyes. I decided that if I said ‘yeahbut’ I would have turned the page to the next chapter of his ranting objections to life in this real world. Sometimes, we just need to sit on our butts and keep our buts to ourselves. Yeahbut moments should be carefully chosen.