“I think”

March 19th, 2017

I previously blogged about my dislike of the use of the word “interesting” in academic contexts, as it is often a euphemism for a criticism. Another crutch I’ve come to avoid is “I think.”

Academics will often begin a critical sentence with “I think” to blunt the impact of the sentiment.

In one usage, a speaker begins a sentence with, “I think you have a point, but…” Or, even the more direct, “I think you are mistaken.” Rather than simply saying that the person is wrong, beginning with “I think” attenuates the speaker from the charge. Just say it. “You’re wrong,” or “You’re mistaken.” Or, “Respectfully, I disagree.”The “I think” prefix adds nothing to the sentence. If you didn’t think it, you wouldn’t have said it. Or as Ayn Rand wrote, reversing Descartes, “I am, therefore I’ll think.”

The phrase “I think that’s right,” does not bother me, as it expresses an uncertainty, something academics should be candid about. When in doubt, say “I’m not sure.”

Related crutches are “It seems” and “It appears.” Both attempt to take the speaker out of the equation, and make the point more universal, when in fact the speaker is merely expressing his or her own idea.

Pay attention in academic discourses to the phrases “I think,” “It seems,” and “It appears.” You will be amazed how often they pop up. I endeavor1 not to use these crutches, along with “interesting.” Pardon me if I slip.