No One Is Ever 'Just Kidding'


I guess if I wanted to be totally pompous, I could call them the Upani-Shaidles.

But I don’t, so I’ll refer to them instead as Kathy’s Rules For Life (which barely sounds much better).


We all have a set of expressions we carry around like a mental Swiss Army Knife – handy, almost foolproof “tools” we use to cut through BS and navigate our surroundings.

Expressions like “Go with your gut” or “What would Ferris do?”

The one’s that saved me untold hours of confusion is “No one is ever just kidding.”

My husband hates it.

He grew up in a big family of brothers. Teasing was the lingua franca.

I’m the only child of two only children who watched The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and envied John Travolta.

“Just kidding” is a phrase used by a large variety of people, from insecure high school girls to master pranksters after a successful hoax.

Its usage and meaning can vary subtly, but the phrase generally is used to indicate that what you just said is a lie or a joke. Also, if you have ever said the phrase, God automatically takes 5 years off your life.

Just kidding.

But the older I got, the more obvious it became to me that “just kidding” was a kind of reverse inoculation — an attempt to take the sting out of a cruel, deeply personal dig at someone else.

It’s used primarily by witless oafs and is an almost infallible indicator of the speaker’s creative and emotional bankruptcy.

Except when my husband says it to me, of course…


I’ve tried to “train” him to stop doing it but I’m also temperamentally and philosophically averse to “husband training.”

The only tactic that’s worked so far is for me to reply somberly, “No one is ever just kidding” and hope that while I’m mouthing those words, I manage to look and sound as imposing as an arch, towering, Puritan witch-finder general pronouncing his sentence of death.

(That’s a pretty tough persona to pull off when you’re a female demi-dwarf, but that has never stopped me from trying.)

My husband sputters something like, “That’s not true” but has yet to convince me otherwise.

Everyone’s family is dysfunctional in different ways.

In mine, we found it safer to express long pent-up resentments and criticism of each other if a (soon-to-be-embarrassed) third party was present.

For instance, my mother’s hatred of my punk rock outfits only came out when we ran into one of her friends at the mall and she started “joking” about them to her pals, as if I weren’t there.

Criticizing other people is hard. We all develop our own drive-by “butt covering” tactics to pull it off (and get what we want) without (hopefully) getting knocked over by too much blowback.

My family’s broken “telephone” game is one.

The old “mouthwash in the locker” move is another.


What most of them have in common is the cowardly but highly effective “chemical warfare” of life strategies: passive aggression.

Often, as we review each day, only the closest scrutiny will reveal what our true motives were. There are cases where our ancient enemy rationalization has stepped in and has justified conduct which was really wrong. The temptation here is to imagine that we had good motives and reasons when we really hadn’t.

We “constructively criticized” someone who needed it, when our real motive was to win a useless argument. Or, the person concerned not being present, we thought we were helping others to understand him, when in actuality our true motive was to feel superior by pulling him down.

We hurt those we loved because they needed to be “taught a lesson”, but we really wanted to punish. We were depressed and complained we felt bad, when in fact we were mainly asking for sympathy and attention.

— Bill Wilson, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

The “genius” of the “just kidding” tactic is that the speaker adds injury to insult by putting the onus on you. You are the humorless prig who “can’t take a joke.”

Imagine throwing boiling water on someone you love then huffing, “Jeeez! Can’t you handle a few second degree burns?!”


“Just kidding” always gets tacked on to the end of the remark, but other expressions, when inserted elsewhere, are also supposed to negate whatever precedes or follows.

So when arguing with a leftist, always watch their “buts.”

When they say something like, “I’m all for free speech, but…” then you can safely assume that everything they say after that will cancel out the clause before the “but.”

Every word before that “but” is an outright lie (or, at best, a malignant self-deception they haven’t detected yet).

The “but” rule applies especially to the expressions “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” and “No offense, but…”

One last thing:

Don’t dismiss the criticism so poorly disguised by “just kidding.”

Maybe it’s something you really needed to hear.

Don’t take that the wrong way.


More life advice at PJ Lifestyle from Kathy Shaidle:

How Women Ruin Romance by Talking Too Much

I Kid You Not: The Top 4 Reasons I Don’t Have Children

3 Rules for Handling the Online Trolls, Bullies, and Crackpots


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