What is this behaviour called, and how do I put a stop to it?
June 3, 2019 8:22 AM   Subscribe

What is it called when a personal challenges statements that were pretty obviously hyperbole (ie. exaggerated and clearly not meant to be taken seriously)? And what is an appropriate response?

Example:

Me: I have had a really crazy day at work and didn't get a chance to take a lunch break, and now I am starving!
Them: I'm sure you're very hungry, but you aren't starving, it has only been a couple hours.

Me: I love my cats so much! They are the best cats in the world!
Them: In the world? There are no better cats in the world? I don't think that is a valid statement.

Me: .... and they said that they haven't read Harry Potter, so obviously I have severed all ties with them, blocked them on social media, and terminated our friendship.
Them: People like different things, you shouldn't condemn people just because they don't share an interest in something you enjoy.




I have never encountered anything like this before in my life, having everything I say taken as an absolute statement of truth and then challenged on it. It is exhausting and frustrating and it is making me feel very self conscious. Honestly, it is very annoying and frustrating, and I am now having to very carefully analyze my words to ensure there is no exaggeration, sarcasm, or hyperbole because they inevitably will make some comment that challenges/questions any such statement. And for the record, I have done due dilligence and spoken with other friends about it and asked if I am unclear I am kidding, etc, and everyone responded with incredulity and mild amusement that anyone took what I said seriously, so I feel quite confident that this is not an issue with how I am communicating.

Also, it bares stating that I am unsure if they are dliberately misinterpreting what I am saying or if they are just intensely clueless. I am leaning towards it not being intentional.

Intentional or not, I really want it to stop. What is an appropriate response to this type of thing?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson to Human Relations (94 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
I call it fucking annoying!

I think the only and best thing you can do is just say, "Hey, are you actually unsure or are you just deliberately misinterpreting what I'm saying?" although if they *are* doing it deliberately that leaves you open to them continuing with their hilarious joke and doubling down.
posted by mskyle at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2019 [16 favorites]


The appropriate response is to stop hanging out with someone who's a really bad match for you conversationally. Why should you have to contort yourself into a pretzel when they're the one with non-normative communication habits?

edit: this doesn't sound like inability to understand what's going on; it sounds like someone who's deliberately putting you down every time. They aren't CONFUSED, right? In your examples, they're not asking for clarification: what they're doing is accusing you of saying something mean or incorrect -- they're being hostile, not baffled.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2019 [62 favorites]


What happens if you simply smile and say 'I was using hyperbole'?

I'm not sure it's possible for the other person to stop doing it, though. I do it sometimes. I suspect that I may have a hint of Asperger's, and so I tend to take things literally even when others would understand that that is not how they're meant.

Is it possible that this person is not neurotypical?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:27 AM on June 3, 2019 [62 favorites]


This person is being an ass about semantics, and seems to have some sort of sense of humour challenge...unless they are non-neurotypical. Might want to give that a think if you're not sure.

I'd say something about how I tend toward sarcasm and hyperbole and it'd be great if they could take it as intended and just leave it be.

(Upon preview, yep Too-Ticky)
posted by wellred at 8:28 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


It seems like this is just someone who takes you literally. I think the best response is to know your audience and adjust accordingly. Hyperbole clearly doesn't work, so be matter of fact. I work with a lot of teenagers with language processing and/or autism-related disabilities and have learned it's best to stick to the facts.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 8:28 AM on June 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


Is this a man and are you a woman? It could be a friendly case of mansplaining how you're feeling to yourself. I get that a lot.

"You can't be drunk already, you only had such-and-such to drink!"

if it is mansplaining, you can respond by saying "sorry are you telling me how I feel like I don't know?"
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:31 AM on June 3, 2019 [10 favorites]


Yes, I am a woman and they are a man.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:32 AM on June 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


Not sure it would work but in these circumstances I’d be tempted to double down.
“In fact I literally starved to death half an hour ago.”
“I absolutely have a certificate to say they are in fact the best in the Solar System.”
“I’m afraid I already used Avada Kedavra on them.”
posted by Segundus at 8:32 AM on June 3, 2019 [105 favorites]


I like what Segundus said, but I'm not sure I'd be able to think that quickly in all situations.

I'd offer a huge smile (the biggest smile in the world!!!) and say, "Wow, you really hate hyperbole! I guess we aren't going to be besties." Shrug, and move on. The implication is that he's a drag, and you don't care about his take, without you having to say it.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:37 AM on June 3, 2019 [19 favorites]


There is no objective measure of cats. You are expressing an opinion in the case of your cats and it would okay to point out that they are now arguing with your opinion. Expressing a preference or dislike is a way for humans to bond and learn about each other. They are telling you that your preference is wrong, and that really bothers me. They can say they prefer dogs, or that they love another cat more without insulting your cats.

The American Heritage Dictionary lists "to be hungry" as an informal definition of Starving.

You can come up with facts that prove his facts wrong in almost all cases. This is exhausting. Good Luck.
posted by soelo at 8:38 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I would straight up stop going out of my way to talk to them. It seems like they are just being obnoxious on purpose. Either that, or not neurotypical, as Too-Ticky speculated.

As I get older, I realize that some people are just jerks and I am not going to be friends with everyone. I will be civil, but they are the ones that have a problem, not me.
posted by kbbbo at 8:38 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


What is it called when a person challenges statements that were pretty obviously hyperbole...?

With your update: an asshole.

And what is an appropriate response?

Nice response: I'm using hyperbole, I like using hyperbole, and I would very much appreciate it if you joked along with me.

Not nice response: You're being an asshole. You know I'm using hyperbole and you're basically gaslighting me. I don't appreciate it and you need to stop.
posted by cooker girl at 8:39 AM on June 3, 2019 [11 favorites]


The appropriate response is to give him 2 more tries and then drop him.

In those two more tries, when he does this, respond by saying, "Your responses to hyperbole reveal a significant level of insecurity. Have a conversation like a real person."
posted by oflinkey at 8:39 AM on June 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


Why don't you just say, "I've noticed that when I deliberately exaggerate you often respond as if I thought what I had said was literally true. Why is that?"
posted by Redstart at 8:40 AM on June 3, 2019 [88 favorites]


Is this person a friend, co-worker or relative?

If he's just some dude giving you shit, stop talking to him as much as possible. This stuff can be about aggression - he feels threatened by you and wants to knock you down by making you feel stupid and self-conscious. He may not even be totally aware of his own motivations.

If he's a friend - an actual friend, not the type of "friend" who will ignore or mock a request - try saying to him, "what's up with the extremely literal response when I make jokes?" and see what he says.

Also, some men literally think that women both can't make jokes and are also kinda stupid, so he may literally feel that he's doing you a favor by correcting your tragic non-man misunderstandings. In this case, drop him like a hot rock.

One outlier explanation: They may think they're bantering in a very deadpan way and they may expect you to respond with a joke like the ones Segundus gives. In their head, it might be "ha ha I am joking about taking their hyperbolic statement seriously and I expect them to cap my statement by making another joke!" I have encountered and sometimes enjoyed this pattern, but it does depend on the person not being, like, a jerk.
posted by Frowner at 8:40 AM on June 3, 2019 [35 favorites]


I would call that pedantry.

Depending on who is saying it to me my responses vary between saying nothing, or a choice between "Thank you Mr. Literal" and "Meeow!"
posted by Mchelly at 8:42 AM on June 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


Maybe "Have you never met anyone who used hyperbole before?" Whether they're an arsehole or not, the answer might be quite interesting.
posted by kelper at 8:42 AM on June 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


He's being domineering, trying to belittle you. Double down on the hyperbole.

Treat it basically like you're "playing the dozens" with ever escalating jokes. He's throwing down a gauntlet and if you just stop the game before winning it, he'll feel like he's won and keep coming at you.
posted by rue72 at 8:44 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


Also, some men literally think that women both can't make jokes and are also kinda stupid, so he may literally feel that he's doing you a favor.

This happens to me a LOT (me: female POC, other party: male, usually white). If this person is neurotypical, I would absolutely bet this is what is and it would make me want to double down because I am petty AF.

If he is not neurotypical, then I'd dial back on the hyperbole around him just to keep your interactions positive and un-stressful (if he is someone you need to interact with regularly).
posted by thereemix at 8:47 AM on June 3, 2019 [28 favorites]


To some people, this kind of pickiness is what they feel to be an amusing conversational gambit.

But to answer your question, your response should depend on what your relationship is. If it's a boss or a coworker you need to maintain a stable tone with, then yes, moderate how you speak. If it's a friend, tell them what a pain they're being. If it's someone you're dating, it doesn't sound like a great match.
posted by zadcat at 8:49 AM on June 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


Willfully obtuse, if neurotypical. Unintentionally obtuse if not. Either way, +1 to fucking annoying, and up to you whether you want to try training him to recognize hyperbole, avoid frustration by not using it around him, or (unless unavoidable) quit interacting with someone so obnoxious.

(on preview: what thereemix said)
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:49 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Also, if it turns out that they are simply being a jerk, then it also works to simply say 'I was using hyperbole'. In a patient tone, as if you're explaining something to a six year old. And always that exact same sentence and not a word more.
That way, you're simply being too boring for them to keep doing their jerkish pendantry act and I suspect they will stop.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:50 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


If he's neurotypical, the conversational style is called "being an asshole."

You could try indicating that what he's saying is incredibly obvious (which it is), as follows:

Duh.
Obviously.
Thank you, Captain Obvious.
(I'm trying to think of a way to explain the accompanying "oh brother" expression to have on your face when you do this, and I can't. But basically, that would be a good attitude to project. He thinks he's being clever, and you know that's really pathetic.)

But if there's any way to avoid this person altogether until he grows up a bit, that would probably be best for your peace of mind.
posted by FencingGal at 8:51 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I would be tempted to use the “Yes, I know that” response from Forrest Gump.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 8:56 AM on June 3, 2019


I am now having to very carefully analyze my words to ensure there is no exaggeration, sarcasm, or hyperbole because they inevitably will make some comment that challenges/questions any such statement.

what what what why

why do you feel the need to modify your speech habits to keep him from embarrassing himself! if you feel too mean just staring and laughing at him, say, I don't know, "that's right!" but encouragingly. not making a concession, validating a slow child who's catching on. say "yeah, you got it, [his name]" in just the way john mulaney says it in the Ice T bit.

or if that's not mean enough, tell him gently that you understand idioms are difficult for him, but it's ok to work this stuff out silently instead of out loud.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2019 [46 favorites]


"When you take my very obvious exaggerations literally and argue with me about them, it is literally the most irritating thing that has ever happened in the existence of this and all previous universes"
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:08 AM on June 3, 2019 [108 favorites]


There's always the generic 'What an odd thing to say', or laughing, followed by saying nothing and shifting your attention elsewhere.
posted by Homer42 at 9:09 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I view the behavior as a hybrid of mansplaining and of gaslighting, and I see it as something unthinking men do in trying to uphold the supremacy/kyriarchy/patriarchy.
posted by kalessin at 9:13 AM on June 3, 2019 [13 favorites]


So, as a response, I'd start reading Hothead Paisan publicly and/or asking if the man doesn't understand hyperbole as a rhetorical device. Since I can be quite cussed, I would personally start teaching/leading a periodic lunchtime training/discussion on rhetorics and use an opportunity somewhere down the line to explain rhetorics to this guy.
posted by kalessin at 9:15 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


It would trigger my sarcasm button, for sure. "I would say that's the stupidest remark I ever heard, but maybe it's just very stupid, not world class stupid."

Well actually, I'm a pretty polite guy, so I'd give him the evil eye and change the subject.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:17 AM on June 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


“I’m using hyperbole”

Do this after a criticism once. Then you can do this immediately after the statements so he knows. If he doesn’t adjust stop talking to him.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:20 AM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I know someone who does this. My sense is that he is trying to be funny. He knows I am using hyperbole, but for some reason he thinks it is funny to respond as if I were being literal. It's not funny, and it is annoying, but I shrug it off because I suspect that he might be a bit neurotypical, and is doing his best.
posted by merejane at 9:30 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Best response is probably to double down on your position. For the cat comment say something like, "probably the best cats in all of history too, now that I am thinking about it."
posted by KMoney at 9:36 AM on June 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


I wouldn't even call it hyperbole or exaggeration. I'd just say, "It's a figure of speech, person-name, not meant to be taken literally." That handles the sincere non-neurotypical as well as the asinine conditions.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:41 AM on June 3, 2019 [13 favorites]


My first instinct would be double down (....you're not literally starving. - Thank you so much, what a relief! I was already writing my testament!"). But I agree with the commenters who pointed out that this might be confused for banter, and therefore read as encouragement.

So here's another vote for being as dull as possible. Sometimes it can be strategically useful to pretend buying into the most charitable reading of the situation, even if you really don't. So I would take this person's seeming lack of familiarity with the basic notion of hyperbole/figures of speech/etc. at face value and use this is a teaching opportunity, patiently explaining what a hyperbole is, like I would to a five year old - that is very earnestly, without a hint of sarcasm, in a manner that assumes he shouldn't be expected to have known this already. (The total lack of sarcasm is important, because again, you don't want him to read it as banter).

Maybe he really didn't know (some people are just extremly literal) - in that case he should be grateful! He's probably doing this to other people as well, who will also find it annoying and it might be costing him opportunities.

But in the more likely scenario he's doing it on purpose to annoy you, you now get to annoy him in turn in a manner that's not likely to be interpreted as flirtatious. You want him to enjoy this interaction as little as possible. People rarely enjoy lectures they didn't explicitely ask for, but you have a good case that with his consistent confusion about your non-literal way of speaking, he kinda did, so you have plausible deniability. What is he going to do? Attack you for trying to clear up an obvious misunderstanding?

If keeps doing the thing anyway, pretend like you believe he just innocently forgot, and repeat your lecture. At some point it's going to wear him down. War of attrition, etc.

Disregard if he's, like, your boss or something, someone you can't afford to piss off, who's unlikely to take well to any sort of lecture from a subordinate. In that case I would just try to ignore it, minimize interactions as much as possible and later mock him behind his back to people who are unlikely to ever run into him and snitch on me. Sometimes it's enough to know that he's the one being shitty, so let me conclude by validating this sentiment.
posted by sohalt at 9:41 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


If you're stuck with this person (like it's a coworker or an in-law, etc) and can't get around it, sometimes it's best to take the high road. Learn who this person is, adjust how you communicate accordingly, if only to make your own life easier. Maybe they have some other charms and talents that you haven't discovered yet because you're both speaking two different languages.

If you're spending time with them voluntarily and you think they're doing this on purpose to rankle you (and I know from experience it's VERY RANKLING) then no it's not acceptable behavior and you don't have to put up with it.
posted by bleep at 9:44 AM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


I want to add that conversely, it's possible that this is more you than them. Are you always exaggerating? Always using hyperbole? Are you always starving to death and your lunch was the best sandwich ever made, etc?

I'm not saying this is the case but is it possible that you exaggerate a lot and they're fed up?
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:46 AM on June 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


Do this once, you might be considered a wit.
Do it twice, you will be considered a half-wit.
Do it again... Oh no, infinite regression!
posted by Marky at 9:50 AM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


My first guess, as noted a few places above, is this maybe a person who is not neurotypical. If that's the case, this isn't anything they're doing at you, nor is it anything you're likely to be able to make a major change in. Depending on your relationship, you may be able to have single kind but clear conversation about how it can be frustrating for you, but likely your long-term options are not "get this to stop," but "develop a quick and rote script to deflect and move on with the conversation" or "dial back the terms/contexts of this relationship."

If that doesn't seem to be the case here, then you've got a neurotypical person on your hands who is some combination of jerk and/or deeply oblivious, and you should feel completely free to tell him to stop, and to refuse to engage if he keeps it up.

In neither case do you need to be drawn into defending your hyperbole. Come up with a single boring refuse-to-engage script, drop it as often as you need to, and continue with whatever you were saying.
posted by Stacey at 9:55 AM on June 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


Either this person has trouble with social interaction or language skills, or he’s annoyed by your personality/penchant for humorous exaggeration and passive aggressively responding in a way that tries to knock you down a peg. I’m similar to you in that it can be fun/funny to be a little over the top sometimes, and I’ve come across people who respond in the way this guy does because they want to show off to me that I’m NOT charming to them, they find my exaggeration childish, and I should stop being so damn exuberant. It’s a classic wet blanket technique. If that’s the case, you can limit how often you interact with this person or tease him about his literal-mindedness (because that really makes them squirm).
posted by sallybrown at 9:56 AM on June 3, 2019 [23 favorites]


So, I'll admit that I used to do this. I might still do this, I don't know. Once, when an ex-girlfriend called me "the most annoying person in the world", I told her that she didn't know everyone in the world, and we compromised by declaring me the third-most annoying person in the world.

Being obtuse is the right word. For me, there are two possible motivations:

1. I have kind of an odd, Andy Kaufman-inspired sense of humor based on making people uncomfortable. If I sense that you're exaggerating in an attempt to be funny, I will attempt to be funny back. But my funny is different than your funny. I'm aware that this is kind of troll-ish, which is why I said I "used to" do this.

2. On preview, what yes I said yes said. There's been a gradual escalation of exaggeration over the past couple of decades, to the point where entire conversations are exaggerated to extremes. Like, nobody is ever just "hungry" anymore, and everything has to be either "the best EVAR" or "the worst EVAR". It seems to me like a lot of people do this without even thinking about it, or, if they are aware of it, they end up overstating a case that would have been compelling enough on its own without hyperbole. (Example: the conversation at the beginning of my comment. I knew I was being annoying. Hyperbole doesn't make the charge of being annoying any more damning than it already was.)

There are exceptions where it just doesn't make sense to say it. Like, of course you think your cats are the best in the world; every cat owner does. Likewise, every parent thinks their kids are the best. You should think your partner is beautiful and nice and all that. But your first and third examples are ones where I totally would have gotten obtuse with you. The Harry Potter example is you clearly trying to engage in a humorous conversation.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:00 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Next time it happens, I would mansplain back with a totally straight face.

"I've noticed you make comments like that a lot when people use this particular figure of speech. Perhaps you've not come across 'hyperbole' before. It's [insert definition here]. It's strange that you haven't noticed people using it before, but perhaps you don't realize how inappropriate your literal reaction is. Would you like me to go through a couple of examples with you, and help you figure out a more appropriate way to respond?"

For aded effect, tilt head to side and look concerned. Perhaps gently ask if he has other aspergers symptoms. When he attempts to explain that it was just a joke, continue to look worried while asking him to explain why he thought that would be humorous.
posted by EllaEm at 10:01 AM on June 3, 2019 [10 favorites]


Eh, maybe they are an ass but maybe you use hyperbole too much and use vague phrasing instead of speaking with any clarity or precision.

I don’t know if I’d want to hang out with either one of you that much, but you certainly should limit your time hanging out together. None of this seems like either one of you are enjoying yourselves, and it doesn’t seem to me that you can or should make them stop any more than you can or should stop speaking in hyperbolic catchphrases.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:02 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Also you absolutely should make certificates for your cats.
posted by aubilenon at 10:03 AM on June 3, 2019 [32 favorites]


UGH, I had an ex like this. Professor Obtuse. He certainly did it on purpose and it was definitely some kind of power play.

What is an appropriate response to this type of thing?

If it is at all possible to DTMFA, then I recommend you DTMFA.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 10:10 AM on June 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


It’s a classic wet blanket technique. If that’s the case, you can limit how often you interact with this person or tease him about his literal-mindedness (because that really makes them squirm).

To elaborate further on this and on the fact that exaggeration has become more common - there’s usually something about this dynamic where the person who dislikes the exaggeration is responding this way because they think it asserts some kind of intellectual or social superiority (like they’re thinking “thank god I’m not one of these dumb people who thinks everything is amazing”). And it’s often done in a way where the person responding to the exaggerator thinks the exaggerator is too dumb or shallow to be in on the joke. The comparison to Andy Kaufman humor is a good one because that often leaves the other person as the one being made fun of, not in on the joke, and a target of humiliation in some way. I’m not surprised this interaction is between a woman and a man, either, because there’s sometimes a gender dynamic to this—guys making fun of women who use lots of exclamation points!!!!! or say “omigod!”
posted by sallybrown at 10:12 AM on June 3, 2019 [26 favorites]


"Trump" them!
Absolutely double, triple, quadruple-down!

"Yes, i am absolutely starving...my internal organs have started eating away at each other in a desperate attempt at nutrients!"

Look them in the eye-- show them the absolute conviction you have that your cats are the Best in the World.
posted by calgirl at 10:32 AM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


That's fair! I will note I myself am one of the non-neurotypical people who does this sometimes if I don't watch myself hard to avoid it, but that my intention was not to paint any of my fellow non-neurotypical people as an asshole.
posted by Stacey at 10:39 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's hard to tell whether or not this is someone you are in a romantic relationship with, but if it is you should dump them. Not because they are an asshole or whatever, there's no way to tell just from this post, but you guys just fundamentally fail to communicate well. We've all met people like this before, where neither of you is trying to be a jerk, but your senses of humor don't gel and everything is much harder than it needs to be. If this is a friend or a coworker, I'd just shut it down every time with "yeah, I was joking."
posted by cakelite at 10:43 AM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Is it possible that there's a cultural difference? I found that when I went to France and mentioned to a French person that I wanted to eat "a million croissants," they kind of frowned like they were doing the math and/or were concerned for my health after the impact of literally 1,000,000 croissants. That kind of thing happened a few times before I realized they don't fool around with hyperbolic throwaways in conversation.

But yeah, barring any major difference in brains or cultures, I would not spend any more time with this person than I had to. He sounds like a jerk.
posted by witchen at 10:43 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Pedantry. Wet blanket.

I suspect it's ableist, but I've also taken to calling that and similar behavior, "Sheldon'ing."

A reasonable response is "Shut the fuck up, you know what I mean."
posted by rhizome at 10:47 AM on June 3, 2019 [12 favorites]


The commonality between all of these statements is that he is trying to correct you. I would call this a form of concern trolling; he is ostensibly concerned that you don't actually understand the definitions of basic words, and is providing you with clarity and definition because you don't understand something as basic as language. It is shitty and weird behavior on his part.

I have been in this dynamic with many men before, and I have found that the best response is a simple "Thank you for your feedback." I try to remain expressionless when I say it. I say it flat, and I deliver it without any fanfare. Some of them genuinely think I'm thanking them for their feedback, which is hilarious, while others know that I am being a jerk right back at them but don't really have any footing to push back on it. It's win-win for me because it just makes the interaction stop. Once I say it a few times to a guy who somehow thinks I'm being genuine, he tends to catch on.

The advice to distance yourself as much as possible from this person is good. I have found that, in my experience, this dynamic never changes and only serves to frustrate me greatly. Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:51 AM on June 3, 2019 [26 favorites]


Oh, and see also, "...like anybody could even know that."

"Trump" them!
Absolutely double, triple, quadruple-down!

"Yes, i am absolutely starving...my internal organs have started eating away at each other in a desperate attempt at nutrients!"


I like this. "No, I went to the ER yesterday and they did an MRI...they almost forgot to get my keys out of my pocket! Anyway, I was talking to the ambulance driver on the way home and they said that organs eating each other is no uncommon, and something usually found in nice people."
posted by rhizome at 10:53 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


It all seems to me to be quite normal. she - excessive use of hyperbole, he somewhat Aspergerish. Both common and both unsuited to one another. Each annoying to the other. Adapt or move on.
posted by TheRaven at 11:01 AM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Re: segundus and everyone else suggesting doubling down, I wholeheartedly agree, and would like to present to you my favorite example of this from pop culture: The Dripping Faucet scene from My Cousin Vinny.
posted by MiraK at 11:08 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


If you can be frank with him, you can say “hmm, that’s rude” in a bemused tone of voice, the way you’d say “hmm, garbage pickup was late today”.
When he says it’s not rude, you could say “yes, repeatedly criticizing someone’s speech and correcting them for non-safety related reasons is actually quite rude.”

Or... ding training? “Every time you pretend to be confused so you can assert dominance by correcting me for no reason, I’ve decided to ring an invisible bell.”

As for what it’s called, I would call it “negging” (maybe to flirt, maybe just to feel more powerful than you). Please don’t be gaslit by thinking he’s non-nerotypical and the poor guy can’t help it. If that were the case he would probably ASK instead of criticize you, and youd roll your eyes but not feel stabby. you’re mad because he’s being hostile. He’s 100% being a dick to make you feel small. It’s classic.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:14 AM on June 3, 2019 [14 favorites]


This behavior is called "disbelief", as in, this is someone whose baseline approach to you is to -not- believe you or take you at your word.

They are trying to hide/feign it by literality. That could come from someone on the spectrum with a lack of empathy or social flexibility, as pointed out above. Or someone who is trying to be dryly humorous, but still to establish dominance or more-correctness in your interaction.

But the basic emotion remains -- this is someone whose every reaction to your statements about yourself is, at its core, "no, not true".

You've gotten a good couple of comebacks above. I might be inclined to use a flat stare and a somewhat slowly stated "I need to you believe me about me".
posted by Dashy at 11:17 AM on June 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


Speaking as a non-neurotypical person myself...all the examples you gave are definitely very obvious cases of hyperbole, but I have definitely been in situations where I genuinely wasn't sure if someone was joking or not, and as such, responded under the assumption that the person was being serious. Mostly because I didn't want them to think I was taking something too lightly that MIGHT potentially be serious.

But as I've gotten older, I've found it safer to simply ask the other person if they're being serious or if they're joking/exaggerating, if I'm really not sure. Saves everyone a bit of grief!

As such, anyone who habitually does this in contexts where the other person clearly isn't into it (and there are situations where both parties ARE into it - I have some friends who go back and forth like this for entire conversations, with the end result being both are cracking up by the end, and at least person is reciting chunks of Wikipedia articles) is concern-trolling or just plain "being an ass". Some people just enjoy finding cheap ways to make themselves feel clever or witty, so they can laugh at their own jokes. That's not awkwardness, it's being obnoxious on purpose, and is, IMO, the conversational equivalent of not using one's turn signals.
posted by aecorwin at 11:22 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


I am now having to very carefully analyze my words to ensure there is no exaggeration, sarcasm, or hyperbole because they inevitably will make some comment that challenges/questions any such statement

Hugs, if you want them. Please don't do this to yourself. This person is not worth it. Well, I'm not qualified to make that call; at the very least, it sounds you're not compatible with them to have conversations with.

This could be just a lack of social skills thing and trying to be a know it all, and one upping you out of insecurity; taking things too literally and not knowing what exaggeration is.

You could try explaining things to him as if he were 5 (without infantilizing him), like:

"I'm not very hungry, I'm SUPER DUPER hungry and sometimes I'll overexaggerate to illustrate just how hungry I am. It's a thing people do. Try it sometime."

"I'm saying they're the best in the world because they're the best in MY world and I love them so much so I'm just saying that. Does it confuse you when I say something like that?"

The HP example is a bit different because *I * almost read that as, really? She cut someone off for not liking HP? And then remembered what we were talking about - overexaggerating. In that case, you could say something like, deadpan, "I was kidding. I wouldn't not be friends with someone that didn't like HP."

Conversely, if you want to double down (my preferred route, cuz I'm an asshole like that sometimes):

Starving:
"Oh I'm totally starving. My doctor checked it out. Are you a doctor?"
[how I'd imagine they'd respond:] "How were you able to see your doctor so quickly?"
"My phone can take x-rays so I just sent a photo to my doctor."
"Your phone can take x-rays? How is that possible?"
"There's an app for everything."

Cats:
"Your statement is not a valid statement."

HP:
"Oh I will absolutely condemn people for not liking the exact same things I like. You like HP, right?"

My point is, you can have a little bit of fun with this. Maybe caveat it at the end with "Just kidding!" with a friendly elbow rib and laugh. Except when it comes to cats. Your cats ARE the best in the world.
posted by foxjacket at 11:24 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Just to answer questions:

1. Not a cultural thing as we are from the same area.
2. My first assumption was that I was to blame. However, I am now certain my use of hyperbole isn't at a frequency that is exceptional or unusual. I spoke to multiple people who know me, including those of my friends who are more quiet and reserved (and therefore perhaps more likely to be bothered by exuberance?), and they each individually said that my use of hyperbole/exaggeration wasn't at all outside the norm or annoying. And I trust these people to be honest with me and trust that they would have told me if I was the problem here.
3. I have no idea if he is neurotypical or not.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:38 AM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


“Interesting”, and nothing more, is my go-to in response to any comments designed to make me uncomfortable.
posted by suncages at 11:42 AM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


Based on your update - please do not under any circumstances twist yourself into a pretzel to appease this person. They don't deserve this much of your energy and brain space.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:43 AM on June 3, 2019 [9 favorites]


Just want to reiterate - even if this person is behaving this way on purpose because he doesn’t like the way you are, that doesn’t mean you are doing anything odd or wrong. He could just be a jerk. Please don’t modify your behavior based on this one guy.
posted by sallybrown at 11:49 AM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


"I was using hyperbole. It is a common conversational tactic in which a situation is exaggerated not because the speaker has lost their connection to reality, but because the exaggeration adds additional emotional content about the speaker's feelings/reaction to the facts. For instance, I might say that repeatedly responding to hyperbole as though the description of events was being offered literally makes you the dumbest motherfucker in the world. That doesn't mean I think you have sex with your mother, or that I have scoured the planet and found no one dumber than you. It just means I think you're being willfully stupid in a way that provokes a visceral reaction which I can better express through exaggeration than with more measured, exact description."
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:01 PM on June 3, 2019 [51 favorites]


I would describe this as "not engaging with you in good faith."
posted by prefpara at 12:18 PM on June 3, 2019 [17 favorites]


I would describe it as "deeply tiresome."
posted by sarcasticah at 12:21 PM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


Some people do the overly literal thing for humor (as aecorwin described). I'm one of them, but I only like doing it with people who play along and who are enjoying themselves.

I would like to think I'm aware enough to note when someone doesn't enjoy this sort of joshing, and to stop; your interlocutor may not be this aware, or may instead be an ass who likes that you don't enjoy it (for dominance or sexism or general jerk reasons). I definitely think it's worth mentioning once that you don't like this kind of humor, because someone like me could misread a humorous response as you enjoying this sort of banter.

If they continue after you state it's not your thing, then they richly deserve any and all responses you choose from above (or come up with on your own).
posted by nat at 12:21 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I would stop talking to him if he's a colleague, and try to distance myself.
I've dealt with exactly this sort of thing many times. It is something that neurotypical men do in order to police how women talk.

This kind of thing has happened to me soooo many times, being a youngish woman. I tend to be mean about it now. For example, I have a PhD in (area that my colleagues do not have education in but can read about a lot online). My male colleagues frequently try to explain my topic to me. I'm talking about them 'educating' me, seriously. I've never had a woman do this to me. I've taken to saying "yeah, that's actually exactly what my PhD is in" whereas I used to let them talk and be polite etc. On the other hand, they also police my language. If something I say doesn't come out quite right, I get corrected.

Other than distancing yourself, if this happens again, I think you should engage directly "I'm clearly using hyperbole and I find it really strange that you are replying in this way." Our socialisation as women means we turn these moments on ourselves and endeavour to be polite to save everyone's feelings. Fuck that!
posted by thereader at 12:52 PM on June 3, 2019 [27 favorites]


The other person is joking. It's like "Wouldn't it be funny if that was what you literally meant". I find that kind of schtick sort of endearing, but I understand how too much of the same gag gets annoying, particularly if you aren't actually saying "literally" and opening the door to the ambiguity.

I think this conversational ploy is only appropriate if the person really is getting very upset over a tiny thing, and taking them literallly is a way of ironically pointing out the over-reaction.
E.G. on a slightly warm day,
You: "It's like a million degrees out there!"
Me: "Really. A million degrees."

but if it was actually hot outside, I wouldn't react like that.
posted by w0mbat at 1:00 PM on June 3, 2019


I have always reacted to this with a pause, a blank stare, followed by "uh, I was obviously exaggerating," where the tone of voice you're going for indicates they just said something really stupid. Anything more than a couple sentences makes you seem too bothered. If you can managed one raised eyebrow like they're being a total dumbass, that is good too. Then ideally just walk away because seriously that shit is exhausting and condescending.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:49 PM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


"You don't really get hyperbole now do you, Bob? I'm sorry I'll try to remember to be more literal next time! [wide grin]

" Bless your heart, I'm sorry, you caught me exaggerating, how silly of me "

On a side note, you guys just made me watch My Cousin Vinny on YouTube. I'd never come around to seeing it but the faucet scene got me hooked.*

*not literally, that would hurt.
posted by M. at 2:00 PM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


"uh, I was obviously exaggerating,"

Also "Uhm, it's a figure of speech." This works doubly because the implication is that they're being smart in correcting you, but not smart enough to know what a figure of speech is. You can twist the knife with, "Ya know what a figure of speech is?"
posted by rhizome at 2:02 PM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


These comebacks are terrible. The point is to get the joke, otherwise you look like a humorless git, but change the behavior.

I would suggest, "Dude, you keep doing that same bit where you pretend to take me literally. Don't you have any other material?"
posted by w0mbat at 2:07 PM on June 3, 2019 [8 favorites]


My late father used to work the reference desk at a large urban library, and so he'd have to answer questions from all sorts who came in off the street. With Reagan having closed the major mental hospitals, and libraries being the only place where it was legal (nay, encouraged!) to "loiter", it was kind of a rough time.

I recall one library patron my father would gently vent about with an almost reverent awe. The man apparently had no capacity for metaphorical thought, and this made conversations extremely frustrating. Very often the entire context of a reference question from him would be misguided due to his excessively literal approach.

The most memorable tale was when he came asking for information on albatrosses, and wanted to see the photo of the Mayor with one around his neck. It turns out that there had been a story about a city hall meeting (with photos) that said something along the lines of "...and the 1982 budget crisis remains an albatross around the mayor's neck..." The patron was dismayed that the photos did not clearly show this bird, and he wanted to get access to records so he could find one that had a clear shot of it.

While I don't know what your own interlocutor is like, I have heard of at least one other seemingly-pathological pedant.

But it's still possible he's just rude and controlling and not worth hanging out with.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 2:09 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Perhaps it’s just me, but aside from agreeing with others that it’s best called “pedantry”, the (intentional?) lack of detail about your relationship with this person makes the question of “how to respond” impossible to answer. For me, anyway. Family member, co-worker, casual acquaintance, whatever - an appropriate response will take into account (at least) the relationship and whether or not you want it to continue.

Many, many responses, I guess you can pick and choose whatever you deem appropriate.
posted by doctor tough love at 2:16 PM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure these are good examples of taking things literally.
This person may be irritated/fatigued by the use of hyperbole to make things seem more exciting/interesting than they are
That, or they might not like you
Limit your interactions
posted by OnefortheLast at 2:25 PM on June 3, 2019


Is this guy a therapist? Is he your therapist? This sounds like the way some therapists talk.
posted by SandiBeech at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


It’s a power play intended to knock you down a peg. As mentioned above, I’d talk to him very slowly and clearly like he’s a dim witted child and mansplain to him that sometimes, people exaggerate for effect. We call this hyperbole! If he thinks he’s being clever by policing your speech, he’ll realise it’s backfired when it’s just made him look like he’s not very bright at all. Then tell him if there’s any other figures of speech that confuse him, you’re happy to explain them to him too. Poor dear.
posted by Jubey at 4:07 PM on June 3, 2019 [6 favorites]


This can 100% be me, and it’s an anxiety/trauma response. The more anxious I become, the more at risk for dissociation I get. Rejecting hyperbole (and casual writing off people for making human mistakes) are part of grounding myself and keeping things from spiraling out of proportion. This is true even recognizing you are being hyperbolic and don’t mean anything by it.

That doesn’t mean it’s not annoying. It has been really isolating for me. But being a buzzkill is also way more socially appropriate than a full blown panic response.

Obviously I can’t diagnose him. So it could easily be the power play or dick move everyone else is seeing. But just wanted to throw out another more generous read on the situation.
posted by politikitty at 6:25 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


It sounds like he's trying to banter and doing a poor job of it. Confrontational banter is something that some people (usually men) do. I engage in it myself, so my response would be to dig in my heels and say "Yes, the world, they are absolutely the best cats and if you disagree it's because you don't know anything about cats." This may actually be the type of response he's expecting from you.

That said . . . It is an asshole sort of banter and not everyone's cup of tea. I would decrease your interactions with this guy rather than walk on eggshells trying to avoid his "humor".
posted by schroedinger at 7:11 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I've been known to do this and it's generally because I'm interacting with someone who drives me up the wall. It is HARD for me to tolerate hyperbole from someone I otherwise find irritating. It's not necessarily the case that they use hyperbole in any kind of unacceptable way; it's that they bug me, and one way I can let off steam about how much they bug me rather than being more outright rude/snippy is to make sure their "funny" hyperbole falls flat. Is he showing any other signs of being annoyed with you? Is it possible for you to be in his life in somewhat smaller doses? It sounds like this might be a relief for both of you.
posted by potrzebie at 8:16 PM on June 3, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sounds like somebody not worth bothering with.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:26 PM on June 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Stone cold, flat affect: "Are you serious?" and stare without cracking a smile. It's unnerving and works great. If there is a response, a simple tight lipped, "Hmmm."
posted by Toddles at 10:25 PM on June 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


I grew up with parents who did this sort of thing, a lot, so it crept into the structure of my sense of humor.
Worse, though, is when I tried this same form of joke on them, they would ask me why I “took things so literally”. I wish I had had the self-awareness at the time to pull an, “I learned it from watching you, Dad!”

That push/pull also crept into my language use, in that I tried (and still do) to phrase things so as not to leave openings for other people to spring these supposed “language traps” on me. I used to dream of speaking without any absolute statements at all, so nobody could ever catch me in a lie, a contradiction, or an exaggeration. It’s exhausting.

And yet I do it myself, this “cluelessly pedantic” thing. Not frequently, and always with a smile, to show I am at least trying to be funny, and only with people who are familiar and comfortable with my style of humor. Because I know how it reads otherwise.

It’s tiring and crappy to have whimsical jokes questioned or misread, but it is also nice to play a little verbal tennis now and then.

Speaking even as somebody who (sometimes) plays this dude’s game, he sounds insufferable, and you have my sympathies.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 11:13 PM on June 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


I think I’d enjoy mansplaining a common rhetorical device to this person. From Google:

“Hyperbole, derived from a Greek word meaning “over-casting,” is a figure of speech that involves an exaggeration of ideas for the sake of emphasis.

It is a device that we employ in our day-to-day speech. For instance, when you meet a friend after a long time, you say, “It’s been ages since I last saw you.” You may not have met him for three or four hours, or a day, but the use of the word “ages” exaggerates this statement to add emphasis to your wait. Therefore, a hyperbole is an unreal exaggeration to emphasize the real situation.”
posted by Dwardles at 6:25 AM on June 4, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm not very good or comfortable with hyperbole and it's something that bothers me sometimes because it makes me feel like my concerns aren't taken as seriously and I lose out. Like if you're an exagerated starving and I'm an understated kind of hungry, but really we both have the same appetite, then how do we decide who gets the last slice of pizza? I agree that what you should do really depends on your relationship with this person
posted by chernoffhoeffding at 7:44 AM on June 4, 2019


It reminds me of a genre of "dad jokes". "Call me a cab" "ok! You're a cab!" "I'm starving" "hmmmm I can't see any ribs, you look like you've got a few more days on you!" And yeah, those are pretty much intended to put the kid off balance and can be pretty disrespectful when overdone or if not followed up by acknowledgement of the initial statement. (E.g. if you're trying to teach your kid to "talk right" and ignoring or pretending to misunderstand them if they don't, that's a suuuper rude dynamic to take into conversation with an adult.)

My first instinct, as someone who has a tendency to dive right in to verbal dominance fights is "uh, are you unfamiliar with that turn of phrase?" Or "I'm sorry, did you not realize that was hyperbole?" Because it kicks the "looking stupid" ball right back to them.
posted by Lady Li at 8:27 AM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


This is common with some people on the autism spectrum. They can be rigid and literal in their thinking and communicating, and may not read your social cues of joking, sarcasm, or irritation at being corrected. When people I've worked with with ASD have done this with me, I've used it as an opportunity to connect with them, by smiling and saying, "okay, maybe not IN THE WORLD!" and then we are in on the joke together. With no other context, I'm not sure if this is the case for this person or not, but it's worth considering.
posted by reksb at 9:15 AM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


I feel pretty strongly that I should point out that even for autistic people (or whatever euphemism people prefer to use), it's easy enough for us to unlearn this behaviour*, and we're pretty good at unlearning it when we're not in a position to be a domineering asshole.

So unless this person's notably short in social skills in other dimensions, telling them to respect what you say and cut it out with the snarky literalism will definitely work if they're autistic. They might be mortified, but honestly, they deserve to be.

*not the behaviour of taking figures of speech literally, but the behaviour of failing to override that with the thing that the figure of speech means.
posted by ambrosen at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2019 [3 favorites]


"Stop being such a dishrag. That's a metaphor, by the way."
posted by whuppy at 1:16 PM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


I work with scientists. I occasionally make up exaggerated numbers (i.e., I have done this 12 jillion times already and I have 1 million pencils in my desk). This type of obvious inaccuracy unsettles some of them, which is funny, so I keep doing it—sometimes I retrofit the word "approximately," to give them a break. They also are starting to kind of get used to it. [edit to answer question: ignore and proceed]
posted by theredpen at 1:20 PM on June 4, 2019


but the behaviour of failing to override that with the thing that the figure of speech means.

The term "synecdoche failure" comes to mind. Not that it exists, but it feels like it describes that connection.
posted by rhizome at 1:42 PM on June 4, 2019


Without knowing him, I also initially thought it was an attempt at humor. Hyperbole and literalism seem like 2 sides of the same coin to me, so responding to one with the other makes sense and could set up some friendly banter. Maybe his delivery is too dry to pull it off or maybe he really is an ass. Either way, it seems like you (and a lot of people in this thread) don't like literalism as much as hyperbole as a rhetorical/humorous device, so yeah, maybe a personality mismatch that you can avoid if possible.
posted by willnot at 4:19 PM on June 4, 2019 [1 favorite]


A phrase i've picked up when people, in bad faith, respond to how i'm saying things instead of what i mean is: "How is that relevant?" Making him explain his passive aggression could be very satisfying.
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:24 AM on June 6, 2019 [3 favorites]


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