What does the world cost? Oh well, then we'll just take a small coke.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Heart of Gold

You've heard the phrase. When someone is "without malice" with a "loving and caring" nature, they are said to have a heart so pure, it is made of gold. The line is delivered regularly in conversation in a seemingly complimentary way, but is it really a positive statement?

The most common application for "heart of gold," or HOG, is after a critical or deriding remark. The speaker feels that her comments will be perceived as "too harsh" or unnecessarily cutting and amends them with the addendum that "oh, but he has a heart of gold." For example, "Todd is a real Jerk. He lies all the time, never looks me in the eye and always wears that ratty cap with the sweat stains. But he has a heart of gold."

Translation: The subject's faults are not his own, but environmentally induced. He comes off as much worse than he actually is because of exogenous factors that are beyond his control. My dislike for him has nothing to do with the "real" person, but instead targets the things that make him unbearable. If only his golden coronary muscle would shine through the fog of the world, he wouldn't be such a jerk. But he is a jerk. He is an idiotic, poorly raised, fatherless animal with zero class and less style. If his face reflected his attitude it would be covered in warts and he would scratch at the itch with a piece of clay like Job. He deserves to rot in the darkest corner of a third-world country and never eat chocolate. But he has a HOG, for what it's worth.

Psychologically, we don't want to push someone down too far or risk raising the defensive ire of our conversation mates, so we moderate the phrase with an insult so camouflaged it is often embraced as a compliment. We are reticent to pound our nemeses into the ground, so we coat the tip of our barb with glitter that we hope will be strong enough to veil our malevolence.

This post serves to remove the glitter and expose the barb for all it is.

I've presented this theory to a few friends and family members to mixed reviews. A number of respondents have raised plausibility issues with their own use and contested that "I really like xyz [who I said had a HOG]; your theory can't be true."

When HOG is used, the speaker is not necessarily cognizant of his or her feelings toward the subject. In fact, the speaker may insist that her feelings are warm and fuzzy toward the individual and that HOG has "different meanings for different people." Don't be fooled.

HOG can reflect both a deep seated and surface disregard for a person. The feelings of malice that accompany its deployment may be buried deeply and motivate the thoughts behind the words with a dull ache of past pain. Or they may be symptomatic of a passing anger, a transient feeling that passes as quickly as glassless glasses.

Further, HOG is sometimes used when the personal dislike is found only at a subconscious level, where it is too deep to recognize. The speaker may not even be aware of her feelings toward the HOG recipient, but the use of the phrase lets others know what she is feeling.

As we've discussed earlier this week, females tend to put a lot more care into the words they choose than their male counterparts. We guys pick words the same way we choose shirts in the morning: if it's clean we'll use it. Guys will use lines they hear environmentally without regard to the nuances of the phrase or any implied meanings. We don't care if you think you've been insulted as long as you still feed us.

Girls, on the other foot (because hands get so old), put an inordinate amount of thought into the words they choose. In fact, picking a word for a girl is also very similar to picking a shirt.

Ultimately, HOG is a negative remark thinly veiled as a compliment. Guys may use it inadvertently (just as they will insult their girlfriends without knowing or intending to), but the phrase's proper place in the dictionary of popular vernacular is under the "insults" tab.

The next time someone "compliments" you on your HOG, mentally add four words to their sentence: "You have a heart of gold. Cold, hard and yellow." That will give you a more accurate picture of their meaning.


Tim said...

Then return the complement. "Your eyes shine like diamonds. Hard, sharp, and piercing."

adrialien said...

Wow. That actually made me laugh! Good job, guys!

Anonymous said...

you assume that everyone communicates that way, and put people in a box, a very little box.