Saturday, 26 December 2015


Were I to draw up a list of un-favourite words, ‘Inappropriate’ would be near the top, along with ‘Hi!’, ‘Absolutely!’ and of course ‘Hopefully’ used non-adverbially.

I few days ago I was reading an article about Asperger’s syndrome and it said that Asperger’s people often gave ‘True but inappropriate’ answers to questions. I can’t remember the example the article used, but here’s one I made earlier:

Mr Normal is ringing up Mr Asperger; the dialogue goes like this:

Mr N: ‘Hi, Mr A, what are you doing?’

Mr A: ‘Er — I’m talking to you on the telephone.’

You see? ‘True, but inappropriate.’ But what ‘should’ A have replied? Should he have guessed that N didn’t really want to know what A was doing right now, but rather what he had been doing before the ’phone rang, or perhaps would be doing later? But no, A took the question literally, and in fact if so taken then his answer was both true and appropriate. (True but inappropriate answers might be ‘I’m breathing’ or ‘I’m balancing vertically on the soles of my feet’.)

My sympathies (as you’ve probably guessed) are with Mr A. Why should he have to guess what N really wants to know? Why can’t N say what he means and mean what he says? English verbs have no shortage of tenses; why should A be forced to (all but) lie, simply because N can’t be bothered to use any but the present continuous?

‘Normal’ people think they must make ‘special allowances’ when dealing with Asperger’s types, when actually the boot is on the other foot: Mr A is obliged to accept that the Ns of this world, who are unfortunately the majority, rarely say exactly what they mean, or mean exactly what they say. They are always lying, or very nearly so. Faced with the Cretan Liar paradox in nearly all his encounters with it, no wonder Mr A finds the world so puzzling.

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