Pet Peeve #58: Starting Sentences with the Word “Honestly”

honestlyHonestly, I don’t know why any sentence needs to ever begin with the word “honestly.” What function does it serve? Do we really need to assure people that the sentence to come is the truth?

This came to mind recently due to a series of commercials on TV and online where the commercial begins with someone saying something like, “Honestly, I’m a little old fashioned…”

My guess is that market research showed that people are more likely to watch the commercial and trust the actor if they begin the commercial with “honestly.” Well done, market research, for ensuring that a useless adverb stays in our lexicon.

I’m trying to think of what people really mean when they use that word. The closest I can think is, “You might be surprised that…” It’s a way of revealing information to people that might be contrary to what they think.

But “honestly” has its roots in the word “honest,” which is about trust and belief. It doesn’t need to precede any phrase. In fact, when something serious follows the word, I actually doubt the honesty of the statement a little bit because they went out of their way to assure me they’re telling the truth.

What do you think? I’m overreacting, aren’t I? So be it. Maybe it’s the annoying song at the end of those commercials.

10 thoughts on “Pet Peeve #58: Starting Sentences with the Word “Honestly””

  1. I think it’s used to point out that what someone is about to say is very frank and sincere. It doesn’t necessarily hold the meaning of “I’m about to tell the truth” when used that way.


  2. I agree with Jared to a degree and I’d add the sentiment, “What I’m about to say is a big deal.” However, I also agree that use of “honestly” to begin sentences is largely unnecessary. It reminds me of someone one of my coworkers told me years ago. He worked for Teach for America in St. Louis City schools, and he said the kids in his 9th grade class would often say, “Real Talk” to denote that they were telling the truth (or for the same kind of emphasis as “Honestly”). He always found this odd and thought, “Does this mean they’re not telling the truth the rest of the time?”

  3. That makes sense–I like those alternate phrases much better than “honestly.” I think part of the problem is that once you start to use “honestly,” you start putting it in front of all sentences (I once knew someone who did that).

    I like that teacher’s response to “real talk.” 🙂

  4. I was tempted to begin my sentence with honestly, but decided against it. 😀

    I think it is a marketing tactic to prime the audience, even for a split second, to believe that whatever comes after “honestly” is truth and is trustworthy. It is like placing fruits in a crate in a grocery store gives the illusion that it is fresh because of the “odd” perception that people think fresh fruits are sold in crates in some remote farm after they are freshly picked. Likewise, using “honestly” sends the signal to our subconscious to believe for a split second what the speaker has to say. The split second is enough to get their message across before your consciousness actually analyzes what has been said.

    Jamey, have you read books by Martin Linstrom? I think you might find them interesting.

    • Jonathan: I agree that there’s some level of behavioral psychology to the use of the word. I haven’t read Linstrom–which of his books would you recommend the most?


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