However limited one’s English may be, there’s just no sense saying “I can’t say a word in English.
But being forced to be a non-native, non-English conversant in Japan, I admit to having said an even worse counterpart expression to many locals: Nihongo ga wakarimasen. As absurd as it is for them to having heard “I don’t understand Japanese” said to them in Japanese, I believe they all got the sense that I would gladly take whatever English was there to get the help that I needed during those awkward moments. As Nihongo is truly one of the hardest languages to learn, most Japanese would have guessed that such an incoherent statement was all that a gaikokujin (foreigner) like me could muster. I only hope and pray that I have gotten a little bit better, though.
Such is the nature of a self-defeating or self-refuting statement. It is awkward and senseless because it doesn’t meet a standard that a general statement should be: logical and noncontradictory. It is like saying “my brother is an only child” or “my parents have no kids that live,” when the speaker is obviously a living offspring (Turek, 2015).
Award-winning author and public speaker Dr. Frank Turek warns that much of what we hear in today’s culture are self-defeating statements, and are thus false. He says that people need to develop an eye for such statements, as it will save everyone a lot of time and heartaches, because believing and acting on what is false can be very painful.
Here are a few self-defeating statements in popular culture:
- “There is no truth.”
Applying the claim to itself, we ask, “Is that true?” Dr. Turek explains, “Because if it’s true that there is no truth, the claim that ‘there is no truth’ can’t be true. But, it claims to be true.”
Simply put, when we deny truth, we are actually affirming it.
- “It’s true for you but not for me.”
Truth for one person but not for another simply doesn’t work because it is cannot be true for everybody. Truth, by definition, must be true at all times and in all circumstances, else, it’s not truth at all.
- “You should not force your morals on others.”
Conflictingly, this begs the question, “Is it okay to force this morality on others?” (S. McDowell, 2017)
- “You ought not judge.”
But this statement is likewise a judgment.
Here’s an anecdote from Dr. Turek: “Everybody makes judgments. The only question is: Are your judgments true? …Have you ever noticed that when you compliment somebody, which is a judgment, nobody gets upset? Like, if you say to your best friend, ‘You know, you’re such a wonderful person. I wish I could be like you.’ Do you think your friend is going to go, ‘Who do you think you are? Are you judging me? You think you’re worse than me?’ No, your friend is never going to say that! Why? Because I noticed that people don’t really have a problem with judging, they just have a problem with judgments they don’t like.”
- “Science is the only way to determine truth.” / “I only trust things I can determine through a scientific process.”
Cold-case homicide detective J. Warner Wallace (2016) writes: “University students report this statement often, and it may take a little more thought to recognize as self-refuting. When a professor makes this claim, we simply need to ask, ‘Can science determine if that statement (about science) is true?’ or, ‘What scientific experiment provided that conclusion for you?’ It turns out that there is no scientific process or procedure [that] can be employed to validate this claim. It is a presumptive philosophical statement that is outside the analysis of science.
McDowell, Sean. 10 Self-Refuting Statements You Must Know
Turek, Frank. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sgxYiuTJNo
Wallace, J. Warner. Four Self-Refuting Statements Heard on College Campuses Across