Katy Guest: Words to make grown men tremble and women weep

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The Independent Online

We need to talk. No, don't turn over. I was going to say that "We need to talk" are the words British people least want to hear. "I've something to tell you" – that's another one. Along with "The boss wants to see you", "I had an accident" and "There's a leak". According to a new poll, these are among the most dreaded words in the English language. Other examples include "Can I borrow your credit card?", "Did you remember my birthday?", "You know that xxxx you lent me?", "You haven't forgotten we're going out tonight?" and "Now I know it looks bad but..."

The poll was conducted by Right Guard, a company that makes men's deodorant – which might explain what looks like a slight male bias to these dreaded phrases. It seems expense, commitment and talking are the things that strike fear into the male armpit.

Now, any woman knows that a man must be trapped in a fast-moving vehicle before any attempt towards "We need to talk" is made. But maybe people need to learn how to have fun with these phrases. For instance, it is cute and entertaining to ask in the 84th minute of a football match: "Who's playing in red again?" And what woman hasn't perked up a rainy Tuesday afternoon by picking up her packet of contraceptive pills, frowning at it and asking: "It is Monday... isn't it?" Anyone?

It's not just men, though, whose hearts sink at the sound of a well-worn cliché. Do you want to see a grown woman cry? Then try these:

"I thought you had the keys."

"You look fine."

"Is that what you're wearing?"

"I'll ring you."

"I promise I'll ring you."

"Do you think that oral sex counts as being unfaithful?"

"Oh, no reason."

"I was drunk."

"It isn't how it looks."

"It's not me, it's you."

"I so don't need this right now."

"No really, my ex-wife and I lead completely separate lives."

"Shhh, my ex-wife is on the phone."

"I'll phone if I'm running late."

"You haven't left home yet, have you?"

"Have you been waiting long?"

Happily, you don't have to be in a relationship – or be a woman – to make your own fun in this way. Try these to wind up your friends and loved ones:

"Was this your cat?"

"We've had the results... Are you sitting down?"

"What happened to that biscuit that the dog licked?"

"I hope I didn't wake you."

On the other hand, sometimes telling people what they don't want to hear is not kind. Which is why I hope not to be hearing any of the following this evening:

"How busy are you?"

"Could you just...?"

"About this piece you've just written..."

"Do you really think this works as a concept?"

"Were you about to leave the office?"

"I hope you didn't have plans for this evening."

Sometimes, on reflection, it's really nice when we don't need to talk.