anon: (archaic or literary)
- in a short time; soon

50:50 vision

80:20 insight

Sweeping statements

A conversation I was having the other day ended when I was told, “You can’t make sweeping statements like that!”

I happened to think that my statement was quite valid, given the circumstances and my reading of the situation in question. Then it occurred to me: there must be two types of sweeping statement … reasonable ones, and unreasonable ones.

It’s actually quite difficult to find a formal definition of “sweeping statement”. Most people understand the meaning as “a statement presented as a general truth but based on limited/incomplete evidence which, from an alternative point of view, can also be considered a falsehood”.

Everyone uses sweeping statements – oops! You see, it’s so easy to do, and such a convenient way of supporting your end of an argument or discussion. Not being a linguist, I don’t know if sweeping statements are as common in other cultures and languages as they are in Britain and in English.

Our cruise stopped off in Piraeus last year so we could visit Athens. For all I know, the Greeks we saw could have been uttering an endless stream of sweeping statements: “We all know the Euro is the cause of our problems”, “No one in our government knows his ouzo from his moussaka”, and “Why do tourists spend all their time looking at us?”

A good sweeping statement should be self-evidently true and an accepted fact: ‘all the French hate us’ … ‘we all hate the French’ … ‘the toast always lands butter side down’. If said with sufficient authority, a sweeping statement stands much less chance of

being challenged: “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few.” – not very fair on all the other people involved in building and keeping our fighters in the air during the Battle of Britain.

Sweeping statements said with authority - would you argue?

Sweeping statements said with authority – would you argue?

But how do you decide if a sweeping statement is reasonable or not?

The audience is an important factor. The sweeping statement “Women are terrible drivers” will seem entirely reasonable in male company, and a hanging offence if there are any women within earshot.

Some subjects are fair game for sweeping statements: “It’s always raining in the UK” (especially when there’s a hosepipe ban), “There’s never anything on television” (even though there are now dozens of channels), and “England’s football team never win” (this one’s OK because it’s true).

Many sweeping statements have become sayings and truisms: “Every cloud has a silver lining”, “There’s no smoke without fire”, and “No pain, no gain”. You see… they’re endemic … but maybe even that is a sweeping statement. You see, once you get started, it’s very difficult to stop.


James – More Anon …