“Jim’s Rule of Buts”

That’s the title of an article at Unqualified Offerings.  I came across it through a comment at one of the Sad Puppies-related articles I’ve been reading for the past week or two – I can’t even recall which one, I’m afraid.  I found it interesting.  Here’s an excerpt.

Jim’s Rule of Buts states, “In any charged conversation, find any statements containing the conjunction ‘but’ and reverse the clauses.”

This is a self-editing rule, and therefore most practical for written communication until you get the hang of it. But once you do, you can start applying it to verbal communication as well, if only because of the disreputable fact that we spend most of the time others are speaking planning what we’re going to say next rather than listening. Or so they say.

The most obvious example of the power of Jim’s Rule of Buts is the classic apology. Compare, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, but what you said made me really angry.” and “What you said made me really angry, but I’m sorry I yelled at you.” As a coordinating conjunction, ‘but’ joins independent and theoretically equal clauses. But in practice, what follows ‘but’ always dominates what precedes it. So if you really want to apologize, and really want to mollify your interlocutor, you really want to make sure the apology itself is in the dominant position. Otherwise, you’re not apologizing; you’re excusing your own conduct.

There’s more at the link.  It’s short, but to the point, and the comments from readers are also worthwhile.  I recommend reading the whole thread.

This is certainly a useful rule for writers to keep in mind, but I think it has real value when applied to our conversations with one another as well, and might have a positive impact on our relationships too.

If the current debate between Puppies and SJW’s applied this rule, it might be a lot more civil and a lot less self-centered – on both sides.  It’s a thought, anyway . . .



  1. Hmmm… "I think it has real value when applied to our conversations, but this is certainly a useful rule for writers to keep in mind."

    Yeah, I think you've got a point there.

    If the current debate between Puppies and SJW's applied this rule, it might be a lot more civil and a lot less self-centered – on both sides. It's a thought, anyway . . .

    No. look at this point on file 770.
    "It’s starting to look like that’s the standard operation of all sides in this debate. If everybody’s scanning, and nobody’s reading, then it’s no wonder nobody’s understanding anything."

    And watch how the commentator is savaged.

    In fact, read comments from that page on. Evidence is asked. There's some realization that "Oh, these people might not be as bad as we initially accused." Followed by rapid efforts to shore up the narrative. SJWs want to live in a world of monsters. That some people might be not as a bad and things might be ok is worse to them than a world where horrible violence awaits around every corner. How do you deal with people that WANT to believe the worst?

  2. A more brutal version I've seen of this same point goes like this: "In any statement of position which employs a 'but', everything before the 'but' can be safely ignored."

    Most recently this appeared frequently in the mouths of people trying to sound "nuanced" over the Charlie Hebdo massacres: "I'm in favour of free speech, but…." "What they did was wrong, but…."

    I like your version better because it covers the positive possibilities, but (God, even I can't stop doing it!) I do sometimes fear that the harsher one is the only one that will get people to think.

  3. Interesting, I would have always, through politeness, assumed that starting with the apology would have been better however, having read the article I realise the truth of the statement and will endeavour to modify my language accordingly.

    This article does however create a 'passive-aggresive' minefield 🙂

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