Is there a more understated word than this in the English language? It is easy enough to say, and it comes with the added bonus of being able to use it in almost any tone of voice. Think about it. How many single words combined with vocal delivery can convey such a wide range of emotion? “Great” is one that jumps to my mind, but I’ll argue that most of the time, if you’re not saying this with a smile, a warm hand squeeze, or a twinkle in your eyes, the result is immediate sarcasm. “Interesting,” interestingly enough, does not fall into that category of linguistic usage.
Something that I’ve noticed more and more is that many people are uncomfortable with allowing “interesting” to be a descriptor. If someone asks you how you felt about that latest, most popular film or book, and you reply, “It was interesting,” that person will almost immediately assume that you didn’t like it. They’ll raise their eyebrows and say something like, “Oh, come on, it’s brilliant,” or “Tell me what you really think.”
As a person who’s talked with more than a few people now, I realize that I am a stealth conversationist, edging towards conversations rather than ambushing them right off the bat. It takes me a while to assess the situation, the feelings of the other people in the conversation, and how I want to bring something up, sometimes even to the point of mentally rehearsing my tone of voice or phrasing when I do. It’s just how I am, and I hope there are many other people who do this, too.
“Interesting” is a very useful word for slow-thinkers like me, and when I use it, I’m not just using it to fill time. Rather than awkwardly rummaging through mental file cabinets for something to say, it’s more like the conductor tapping his baton on his music stand to let everyone know the concert is about to start. I do have a thought, just let me warm up the orchestra first.
I first discovered the beauty of “interesting” in an art class I took at college. For class critiques, we were lined up in front of a sad gray wall with another student’s work pinned to it and forbidden to say that we liked it. Our professor thought it had no meaning. If you said you liked a piece of art, you were just trying to be nice. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with starting off this way, especially when someone’s put a piece of herself before a group of relative strangers. You might be surprised how hard it is to not say this in a workshop setting.
Under the sharp gaze of our professor, we became adept at slipping quickly from “I like it” into “I like how you did this thing with the lines yes that’s very nice maybe if this one was a bit thicker?” and then into statements that went straight to “The way you mixed these colors is lovely.” Critique can be a good experience, even a great one, but delivery dictates how it is received. I think it’s important to begin with something good so the person receiving the critique can breathe a bit easier and maybe hear more of what you’ve got to say. You should always be honest about this, of course.
“Interesting” became something I used a lot, I’m afraid, but it was always true. In fact, it was even more useful than beginning with “I like it,” because it’s such a versatile word. It can refer to something that piques your interest, something quirky, but not off-putting. It can stretch into the realms of fascinating, engaging, or enthralling. Simply, it describes anything that has your interest, from the slightest curiosity to the most incredible wonder.
I like “interesting” because there is so much room inside of it, space to explain what it is that has got my attention. It begs explanation. I can be interested in something I don’t like or even something I disagree with. I can be interested in things I don’t understand just as much as things I do understand. “Interesting”— meaning the range from thought-provoking, exciting, remarkable, intriguing, or curious—allows us explore without having to immediately choose which side of the fence we’re on.
Here lies the catch. You have to be able to explain why it’s interesting. After all, “interesting” is the realm of debate, of looking under rocks and poking things with sticks. This is not to say that conversation is finished after declaring something “awesome” or “abysmal,” but in a society where our language has grown stronger, coarser, or more sarcastic in order to maintain a similar level of emphasis, median words like “interesting” are becoming diluted because they take too long. They need a tone and gestures. They are too complicated. They need more than the characters it takes to spell them. They need a conversation.
There have been several times in my life when I wish these conversations could have happened instead of “interesting” going the way of “fine” when someone asks how you’re doing. There’s so much more below the surface!
It seems we don’t have enough time for words like “interesting.” People want to know immediately what you thought of that particular something, and a prelude of “interesting” is no longer enough to convey that some part of you found it intriguing, a part you’re still investigating and attempting to put words to. You want to say, “There’s a mystery here, one I wouldn’t have known about until I saw that. Now I’m trying to figure out why I feel the way I do. Don’t you think it’s interesting that everyone who looks at this comes away with a different impression? Here’s what I saw. What do you see?”
I think we would be wise to reconsider “interesting.” We all have our own contexts, our own subtext and nuances that make up the lenses we use to see the world around us, and I don’t think that we should be so quick to try and put labels on things without delving into the reasons. When we do this, misunderstanding jumps up from its chair.
Why do you like something? Why do you dislike something?
Either way, I’ll find your reasoning interesting.