What is a confusing phrase I can use in a conversation?
July 9, 2008 9:52 PM   Subscribe

Do you know of any phrases that can be used to confuse someone in a conversation? I saw a list long ago but don't recall any if the phrases. It could be a question or an answer. The purpose is to say something that sounds natural and like a plausable statement but is difficult to decipher (or even non-sensical) and makes the other person feel stunned and speechless as they try to figure out what you said.

I seem to recall that one of the items on the list was an answer such as "You know that I believe that what you didn't say is true." That isn't the phrase but it was something along those lines that would be an unexpected statement and so would cause the other individual to have to repeat back in his mind the phrase as they try to figure out what you meant. I think it was the kind of thing that causes the other person to feel like they are drawing a blank or having a hard time thinking. But the phrase isn't so ridiculous that they'd be able to immediately call you out on it.
posted by mckennage to Writing & Language (44 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

You wouldn't purposefully use this to confuse someone without context, but phrases like "my neighbour's mother's cousin's daughter's boyfriend" always makes the listener interrupt, say, "hold on," then count through the relationships out loud, one stage at a time. After which, both of you acknowledge the listener is up to date, then you go on with the story. And each time you tell the story you sort of expect to get interrupted right after mentioning that part.
posted by roombythelake at 10:10 PM on July 9, 2008

I like to answer with semi-related true statements that don't actually answer the question. Example: "Are you going to the supervisor meeting?" "Well, I'm a supervisor."
posted by ctmf at 10:11 PM on July 9, 2008

You can always use the old upper-class British fake-modest reverse twist:

On the subject of Architecture, Prince Charles once said, "I wouldn't be talking to you about this if I didn't think that I wasn't alone in my views."

Translation: I think we agree on this.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:13 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

More than a list, but Schhauer's odd but entertaining The Art of Always Being Right is more or less about how to win an argument regardless of the merit.
posted by shothotbot at 10:14 PM on July 9, 2008

Here's an interesting list of political (etc.) doublespeak, which is along the same lines as the above.
posted by phunniemee at 10:16 PM on July 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

After which, both of you acknowledge the listener is up to date...

Or you change the order and say they misheard. This can be quite fun.
posted by Mblue at 10:17 PM on July 9, 2008

I'm not sure if this is exactly what you're looking for, but I took a linguistics class where the professor showed us a sentence like this:

"The dog the girl the boy knew saw ran away."

It's incomprehensible, but it's grammatical if you analyze it the right way. (The boy knew a girl -- "the girl the boy knew" -- and that girl saw a dog -- "the dog the girl ... saw" -- and "The dog ... ran away.") You can keep on adding clauses indefinitely by tacking on nouns at the beginning and verbs at the end.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:23 PM on July 9, 2008 [6 favorites]

"He looked at me as if I was stupid."
"And you looked back as if you weren't?"
posted by acoutu at 10:24 PM on July 9, 2008 [5 favorites]

You can pick up any Woody Allen book or even search for his quotes online; probably not as fitting to your purpose as you wish but they have that weird quality where they make sense but not really.

Also, again not a silver-bullet but you might practice carrying every single argument made to its logical extreme so that the person actually misses the real point. It's a bit weird how I got this habit after studying discrete math for a very long time but it's kind of interesting.

Again, not the magic solutions you are looking for but my $0.02
posted by the_dude at 10:28 PM on July 9, 2008

Are you thinking of this list of Garden Path Sentences?
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:37 PM on July 9, 2008

Drop "not" into a question.

"Are you not hungry?"
"Do you not agree?"
"Is he not awake?"

This confuses people, because a simple "yes" or "no" could be taken either way.

This is especially troubling for people like me who work with computers.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:47 PM on July 9, 2008

Addition isn't correct.
"The dog the girl the boy knew saw ran away."
posted by Mblue at 10:51 PM on July 9, 2008

Mblue - Jaltcoh was correct, you need to keep the 'saw' in there. It's similar to Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo...

I probaly screwed up the capitalization. Also, I've lost my ability to parse the word 'buffalo'
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:01 PM on July 9, 2008

I love doing this to people:

Me: Wanna go to the movies tonight?
Friend: Yes.
Me: "Yes" you do or "yes" you don't?
Friend: *blank stare*
posted by heffalump at 11:32 PM on July 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

How about some of these?
posted by TDIpod at 11:33 PM on July 9, 2008

When I'm late, I usually excuse myself by saying, "Sorry I'm late, I didn't get here on time."
posted by muddylemon at 12:03 AM on July 10, 2008 [21 favorites]

Gertrude Stein specialized in this.

Of her California home town, Oakland:

There is no there there.

Instead of "a rose by any other name...", she said:

A rose is a rose is a rose.

So did Yogi Berra:

No one goes there any more-- it's too crowded.

What has come to be my favorite witticism of all time seems to meet your criteria:

It's the kind of thing for the kind of people who like that kind of thing.

Which is usually attributed to Lincoln.
posted by jamjam at 12:23 AM on July 10, 2008

"Would you like ThingA or ThingB?"
posted by tracicle at 1:47 AM on July 10, 2008

The price of something is always a "buck two eighty". That stops 'em dead.
posted by unixrat at 6:13 AM on July 10, 2008

much like the "not". Just add "do you?" as well.
"You don't want to go to the movies, do you?"

and like unixrat, my dad always says, "a dollar two ninety eight". Wha?
posted by nimsey lou at 7:28 AM on July 10, 2008

"I am nonplussed by your opinion." Nonplussed means both surprised and, more recently in the US, not phased. "This new meaning is not yet accepted as standard, and it may cause ambiguity in sentences such as He seemed nonplussed by the news." I really like it and rarely use it.
posted by Eringatang at 7:33 AM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just answer any expression of desire or dislike with: "Why do you hate America?"

Guaranteed slack-jawed goggle-eyes for 5-60 seconds, depending upon political affiliation. Works like a charm.
posted by Aquaman at 7:55 AM on July 10, 2008

I like to mix metaphors to see if people are paying attention. A couple favorites:
"we'll burn that bridge when we get to it."
"does a bear shit in the Pope's hat?"

And yes, anything Yogi Berra said is sure to cause some cognitive dissonance.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:56 AM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Along the lines of Aquaman's "Why do you hate America?" - a favorite of the ladies I knew in college was to respond to a completely unrelated statement with a mock-offended "Are you calling me fat?" You've never seen such hilarious terror in a guy's eyes as he tries to figure out what he said wrong.
posted by vytae at 8:11 AM on July 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Are you thinking of things like these:

"Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?"
"What color was George Washington's white horse?"
"When did you stop beating your wife?"
"What's the difference between a duck?"
"Which is further, Philadelphia or by bus?"
posted by Miko at 8:38 AM on July 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

What you want, is a Mondo. Search The Principia Discordia for "mondo".
posted by drinkspiller at 9:12 AM on July 10, 2008

"What's the difference between a duck?"

One has feathers!
posted by shadowfelldown at 11:15 AM on July 10, 2008

"What's the difference between a duck?"

One has feathers!

I always heard "One leg's the same" for that one.

...Anyway -- there's always that quote from LORD OF THE RINGS, where Bilbo is addressing the guests at his birthday party -- "I don't know half as you as well as i should like; and i like less than half of you half as well as you deserve." Tolkien even says at that point that all the other hobbits stopped for a minute, thinking, ".....wha?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:51 AM on July 10, 2008

"Excuse me, you dropped your pocket."
posted by jtron at 12:27 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You all raised a lot of funny quotes and ideas. I really wanted something that sounds plausible and is preferably not nonsense (or could only be considered nonsense upon quite a bit of thinking).

That way when you say it, perhaps in a serious discussion or debate, the other person will be frozen thinking about it you can then begin talking again after 10 seconds and they won't have time to figure it out.

Suggested phrases closest to what I was looking for are, in order (the first few are the best):

weapons-grade pandemonium: "I wouldn't be talking to you about this if I didn't think that I wasn't alone in my views."

Mblue: "After which, both of you acknowledge the listener is up to date..."

EmpressCallipygos: "I don't know half as you as well as i should like; and i like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

heffalump: "Me: Wanna go to the movies tonight?; Friend: Yes.; Me: "Yes" you do or "yes" you don't?; Friend: *blank stare*"

Ideally I'd like either a question or answer that could be used in nearly any circumstance, and one that doesn't sound like you memorized some contrived phrase. The one I quoted above from weapons-grade pandemonium is fantastic, though a little long.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far!
posted by mckennage at 4:42 PM on July 10, 2008

I know someone who used to be the mayor of our town and she told me her most valuable phrase when dealing with constituent requests was "I'll be sure to give that all the consideration it deserves."
posted by tractorfeed at 6:08 PM on July 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

Yep, it's a grammatically correct sentence.
posted by inactivist at 3:37 AM on July 11, 2008

Oops! Double-posted, sorry.
posted by inactivist at 3:37 AM on July 11, 2008

Would you rather, or drag along?

Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.
posted by po at 9:11 PM on July 11, 2008

"Shag carpeting is fun to play in."

[We'd say this a lot when I worked in coffee, mainly to demanding blowhards in the middle of some tirade. Usually derailed them long enough to get them to stop bloviating, get their order filled, and away from the counter(s). For a minute. Fun times, fun times.]

[My favorite, however, is:] "Yes. Well." [Insert looooooong pause betwen those two words. Works wonders, and by 'wonders' I mean, 'Nukes conversation from orbit. Twice to be extra sure.']
posted by Minus215Cee at 7:44 PM on July 12, 2008

i never start anything i'm not prepared to have already finished.
posted by Soulbee at 1:35 PM on July 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whenever discussing a matter of some, but not excessive, complexity at work, I always try to work in "well, it's not rocket surgery," which makes sense to everyone for about five seconds.
posted by felix at 8:26 AM on July 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Reminds me of "That 70's Show" episode when Hyde teaches Jackie about Zen...
posted by neblina_matinal at 11:07 AM on July 16, 2008

Like Boris Johnson (now mayor of London) once said in Have I Got News For You:

"I couldn't fail to disagree less."
posted by Skyanth at 1:06 AM on August 4, 2008

ME: "Hey, hey I have a great knock-knock joke ... but this time you start!"
FRIEND: "Knock Knock!"
ME: "Who's there?"
FRIEND: "..."
posted by theiconoclast31 at 9:13 AM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Put that in your pipe and eat it."
posted by ostranenie at 11:53 AM on April 23, 2009

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