The room was packed with nary a chair to spare. The MC stood up to introduce the special guest speaker who had travelled from a nearby city to deliver words of wisdom to the neighborhood ladies. “Mrs. XYZ needs no introduction. It is an honor for her to be here with us tonight,” she said simply before sitting down. I chuckled to myself. Did she realize that she meant to say “It is an honor for us to have her here tonight”? Well I wasn’t the only one who caught the mistake, as the speaker herself started her lecture with a little smirk and responded, “It is true; it IS an honor for me to be here tonight.” The MC didn’t realize her mistake even then, and this made me ponder how often the things we say don’t quite come out the way we mean.

“I remember the feeling. In fact, I get nauseous just looking at you.”

I was sitting on a bench outside my apartment building waiting for my children’s school bus to drop them off. My Rebbetzin happened to walk by and greeted me with a smile and said, “How have you been feeling?” She was one of the few people who knew I was just finishing up my first trimester, and she knew how sick I had been feeling. “The truth is, still not so great yet,” I answered her honestly. She nodded sagely and said, “I remember the feeling. In fact, I get nauseous just looking at you.” I blinked. Did my Rebbetzin just tell me that I make her nauseous? Of course what she was trying to say was that the state I was in reminded her of her own first trimester nausea, but that’s not quite what came out…

I can’t say that I myself was never guilty of the same crime. As a young man, my husband had a reputation in his school as being one of the brightest students, and all his references spoke of his high intelligence. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that he was down to earth and very easy to talk to. “You know.” I said to him one day, “I know that you are so smart, but talking to you, I can almost forget it!” There was a long pause. Suddenly I realized how wrong that had come out and blushed furiously. Luckily, my husband-to-be understood what I meant to say.

I was soon to get my just deserts for that comment. We were newly married and hosting one of my husband’s married friends for a Shabbat meal. As the wife and I got to know each other, she said to me with real sincerity, “Who would have known? We have been setting your husband up with all these smart girls, and then he married you!” Ouch. Of course, what she was trying to say was, “how nice he married such a personable individual instead of a walking brain,” but it just didn’t quite come out that way. Luckily, I had enough self-esteem to laugh off her remark.

Age is another topic one must be very cautious before mentioning. My husband was once waiting at a health clinic with another man who was in his upper 60’s. They began talking during their lengthy wait, and discovered that they were both there for the same medical issue. “But you are so young!” his surprised companion said to him upon this revelation, “Why, you can’t be a day older than 45!” My husband smiled and said, “Actually I just turned 30.” That evening, he asked me if there were more graying hairs in the back of his head that he couldn’t see. “What hair?” I joked. He was not amused.

Earlier in our marriage we moved to a new neighborhood and lived in an apartment building with several other young couples. I was schmoozing one evening with one of my new neighbors, and she casually asked what I planned to do with my son when I went to the hospital for my upcoming labor. “Actually,” I said, “this will be our first. We are married just over a year.” She looked surprised. “Your first? Are you sure?” she asked me. Am I sure? What is that supposed to mean? I wondered. Actually, now that you mention it, yes, indeed I do have a son I must have forgotten about… The joke was on me when I found out that the day before my husband had been pushing a friend’s stroller, toddler in tow, when he passed by that same neighbor on the street. Still, “Are you sure?” was a funny question to ask.

A friend recently told me about another neighbor gaffe: Her neighbor dropped by unannounced on a typical busy afternoon. With several young children in the family, the house was full of toys, leftovers from lunch and unfinished homework assignments. The neighbor entered, cleared off a chair, and sat down. She looked around and said earnestly, “You are my role model. I wish I could be like you. I don’t know how anyone could live in this mess and not let it bother them at all.” I’m sure it was meant as a compliment, but my friend certainly thought twice before opening her door again in the middle of the afternoon.

And don’t think you are immune to this type of faux pas, as eloquent as you may be. Even as I was writing this essay, with the intention of conveying the importance of thinking before speaking, I turned to my husband and said, “Don’t you have any more ideas for me? Certainly you must have more examples of stupid things you’ve said to people?” He smiled at me and said, “I think you have your last one.”