I am told (repeatedly) that I have bad tone. That is, when I speak, usually when offering constructive criticism or helpful suggestions my tone is unacceptable, or to put it more simply—bad. “I don’t like your tone,” is often the response I get to some off-hand comment. What then ensues is a discussion about my tone rather than a detailed exploration of the issue which I hoped to bring under discussion. One could suggest that the “bad tone gambit” is nothing but a diversion. If this thesis is put forth the critique of my tone escalates. I often suggest that bad tone may be in the ear of hearer (as evil is in the eye of the beholder), that there could be a perception of bad tone where no malevolence is intended. I hold to the theory that unless there is, in fact, evil intent, a scheme to harm, or premeditated cruelty, then one should not be put down for tonal shortcomings. One of my key principles guiding intermarital discourse is that intent should be the hinge pin of any dispute over alleged bad tone. It is simply not fair to play the tone card in every case where there is a simple disputation. I don’t think my tone is that bad and certainly my motivation is mostly altruistic. I wish to help. So, I have decided that I should, for the sake of keeping discussions on point, provide my own adverbial description of my tone so there can be no equivocation. I have been practicing a new speech pattern in which I offer a qualifier to help my listener understand my intent. My theory is that if she were reading my helpful suggestion or, in some cases, my bon mot, tone would not be an issue, for the author (me) would describe how I said a certain thing. Therefore, it is just a case of speaking as if one were writing. Consider the following in italics to have been spoken out loud as written: It seems like if we’re able to keep a bowl full of useless antiques utensils on the counter that I could keep a flashlight, which is actually useful, by the door instead of always having to hunt for it, he said in a burst of loving helpfulness. Clearly, the adverbialness of this minor complaint is clear and unequivocal. There is no bad tone. Only a suggestion that will increase the safety of the household. Another example first without the new technique where bad tone becomes an issue then with my new improved adverbial technique.
“Boy, it’s too bad you don’t have enough space to display all your doodads.”
Response: You say that gleefully. (Discussion of tone follows).
New improved: Boy, it’s too bad you don’t have enough space to display all your doodads, he said with heartfelt sympathy.
I really don’t understand why I didn’t think of this years ago (like forty years ago).
Husbands, boyfriends, significant others, partners, whatever, take control of your tone.