Absolutely

2 min
at 11:43 PM

When did ‘absolutely’’ become the default answer to most questions? Ali Shah explores what’s behind the phenomenon.

“Absolutely” is the new yes. In a time of uncertainty and angst over the direction of the country, and with fake news adding fuel to social divisions, replacing a simple “yes” or “sure” in response to questions with the emphatic “absolutely” is all the rage, especially in media interviews.

I recently counted how often interviewees include at least one “absolutely” response, but it was easier to note when interviews don’t include one. After a week or so of listening, I stopped counting. At zero. Absolutely is absolutely everywhere.

What’s going on here? It might be a kind of certainty fetish; an expectation that anyone being interviewed should be all-in with every response.

“Thanks for joining us,” asks the host. “Absolutely,” replies the guest, as if to remove any suspicion this might be a hostage situation.

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Most of the time, when someone replies “absolutely,” the question was deliberately leading; the interviewer, like a lawyer examining a friendly witness, lobs softballs for an easy home run swing. Softball questions produce certainty. And certainty sells.

Our President compensates for his credibility problem by adding “believe me” to the end of his sentences or Tweeting in all caps. It’s the same with “absolutely.” It’s selling certainty. And certainty may be less a sign of competence than it is mental illness.

Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz wrote “Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has doubts, the psychotic has solutions.”

Why fear uncertainty? Maybe we should expect fewer absolutes in this unpredictable world; after all, “absolutely” is not the opposite of fake, that would be “genuine.” And sometimes, a genuine answer leaves room for doubt. So next time you hear an “absolutely” that wasn’t absolutely necessary, ask yourself if the speaker is trying a little too hard, being a little too certain, and embrace your healthy doubts a bit longer.

With a Perspective, I’m Ali Shah.

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Ali Shah is an attorney living in Sunnyvale.

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