I've been hearing words and phrases of late that give out disturbing signals. My friendly department store saleslady, before telling me she has no more cotton towels, begins her reply with "To be perfectly honest."
More and more of the people I talk with on the telephone use the word "frankly" regularly in their conversation, and some use longer assurances like "To be frank about it . . ."
I am not aware of any national survey revealing a trend for such usage. However, as far as I can observe, the frequency of these "credibility" phrases is not just increasing, but they are being used in most unlikely settings. An old friend confessed to me that "to tell you the truth, I just don't have the energy to go shopping today." Another explained, without the slightest provocation, "Believe me, believe me, I have to leave."
Has the Age of Disbelief come to such extremes? Must warranties of truthfulness be made verbally explicit because friends have come to fear that their friends may not believe them if truth is simply implied in their conversation.
Granted there is enough phoniness and fraud in the economic and political marketplace to put all of us on our guard. But does this well-founded skepticism have to wash over into our neighborhood conversations, into exchanges between friends or relatives?
Two months ago, the last straw broke for me when I heard someone say: "Truthfully, I don't know what to believe anymore." I now have started to ask people who use prefaces of sincerity -- "You mean that sometimes you are not 'truthful,' are not 'frank,' are not 'honest'? Is that why you have to tell me when you are?"
The root problem is not language but the pervasive feeling that social distrust is so widespread that people need to use such language to be believed. This is what troubles me. Perhaps were each one of us to notice these instances , we could help to restore confidence in our discourse.