I’m certain that clergy, politicians, and news anchors all take the same course in patter. Given how often “our hearts go out to …”, one wonders if they ever stay home. Note that it’s invariably our hearts, first person plural, notwithstanding the speaker might be the only one missing a heart that day. The one thing you don’t want to hear a parishioner shout out is, “Mine doesn’t!”
Note too that one has to be careful about the right preposition. Hearts go out to, whereas thoughts and prayers go out for. This is because it would be blasphemy to be praying to the family that’s just lost a loved one. Precision of expression matters, as much in patter as in drafting tax law.
Patter is social lubrication, but only if the patteree understands it as such. If I ask you “How do you do?”, I’m waiting for you to ask me the same question. Neither of us is waiting for an answer. Nor, if I say “Pleased to meet you!” am I sharing a report on how I feel about our encounter.
The difficulty arises when you think you’re consoling when in fact you’re just making things worse. For example, do not say to a Holocaust survivor that those who didn’t are in the loving arms of Jesus. You might believe this asinine nonsense, but as with comedy, it helps to know your audience.
And, as with comedy, timing is everything, including for (what might be called) anti-patter. His funeral is not the time to tell your grieving mother that he was sexually molesting you since you were five. Save it for the reading of the will.
And speaking of pedophilia, be especially careful about reciting mantras like, “The state has no right to tell you who you should love.”
As I tell my students, make sure you can stand by your quantifiers. And your modals. Smoking can harm your baby has about as much argumentative force as sneezing might provoke an attack from Mars.
As I say, precision of expression matters, the only exception being love talk. When you assure your aging wife, “Darling, you’re still the most beautiful woman in the world!”, do not stop, think, and then add, “to me”.
Enough for today. Tomorrow we’ll carry on our discussion of hyperbole. In the meantime, don’t forget there’ll be a surprise exam sometime next week.