Misfired indirection

Yesterday’s Zits:

Something more direct might have worked better.

Jeremy’s mother chose not to give a direct instruction to her son — probably because it would have been taken as maternal nagging (though it’s odd to be second-guessing the motivations of cartoon characters). So she moved from something like the direct

You should memorize it.

(itself more indirect than Memorize it!) to

It would good be a good idea for you to memorize it.

and then from the active to the passive

It would be a good idea for you to have it memorized.

and then, fatally, to versions with the agent suppressed and not necessarily suppliable from context:

It would be a good idea to have it memorized.

Fatally, because the last version allows the hearer — in this case, Jeremy — to supply any agent in interpretation, so subverting his mother’s intention to be very very cautiously directive.

Politeness (well, circumspection) is often at odds with clarity.

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