Is ePrime more than just a “semantic game”?

Posted by Rex Alexander on Tue 19 Feb 19 in ePrime, General Semantics, Uncategorized |


Someone recently wrote something to the effect that he embraces the principle of ePrime, but does not use it in ordinary conversation because it often sounds peculiar and therefore might alienate the other person.




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True enough! That is pretty much what I do, and I suspect is the reason that after experimenting e-Prime in some of his early writing, Dr. Ellis abandoned it,  and why the revised editions of “New Guide to Rational Living” reverted to Standard English.

However, consider the following:

1. You’re an asshole!
2. You never keep appointments.
3. I feel disappointed that you missed our appointment and the previous two as well.

Clearly #1 is a no-no. It uses the “to be” verb as well as global rating.

#2 is possibly superior to #1 in that it is at least talking about SOMETHING, about behavior, about missed appointments rather than simply downing the self of the OP, but it falls apart using the vacuous word “never.” Clearly not only an exaggeration, but simply untrue. If we leave it at “never” not only are we functioning in the Twilight Zone, but we rob ourselves and the OP of the opportunity to discuss the problem constructively and intelligently. When exactly does the OP miss appointments? Is it only with me? Is there something about me s/he prefers to avoid? Are the appointments in the early mornings and  the OP does not function optimally at that hour? Is it only when we have to discuss taxes? Is it because there is some disturbance in the OP’s life distracting him from keeping appointments? Is this a crazy making message (“I want to meet with you-I don’t want to meet with you”)? Or does the OP have some serious behavioral problems in terms of commitment and time management?

The answer is that until we know for sure, we just don’t know what it is, and #1 and #2 rob us and the OP of communicating meaningfully about it, solving the problem, negotiating a compromise and gaining greater intimacy.

#3 is the best of the three. It avoids any use of the “to be” verb. It expresses the thought as “I” thus taking responsibility and ownership of it rather than justifying and giving it phony authority by evoking a principle or an abstraction (One must never be late!). Finally, it expresses an authentic feeling (disappointment) which immediately makes the communication richer, more authentic and intimate. In the jargon of Transactional Analysis, the conversation operates on the level of adult-adult, rather than parent-child or adult-child.


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The important thing, and the real reason for this post is to point out that “I feel disappointed that you missed our appointment and the previous two as well” doesn’t sound “funny.” No one would know that you are “using e-Prime on them!” It is exactly like “real English.”

Humanists teach us to avoid using #1 & #2 because–paraphrasing fairly radically here–because it isn’t “nice.” It isn’t ethical. It is in bad taste. It is poor manners.   It’s not “healthy,” but they don’t teach us why and how  it is unhealthy. That’s the 64 dollar question, and is is a question e-Prime can readily answer in a meaningful and powerful way.

General Semanticists teaches us that labels such as “asshole” as well as the entire set of positive and negative globalizations we apply to our self and to the self of others simply do not exist.  “Huh?” you say. So help me, Hannah! They are not real. There just are just no such such things as assholes (except in the anatomical sense),  failures, idiots, bitches, bastards, impotent jerks, nice guys, brainiacs, queens, fags, nerds, scoundrels, troopers, stand up guys, successes, hunks . . . This set of exaggerations, higher order abstractions, globalizations is a large one, with certain terms going in and out of fashion historically, familiar terms changing meaning or losing meaning, and new ones being invented all the time. The crucial issue is that these globalizations  attack the core essence of identify of the other person (or of your self  if directed at yourself).   Usually directly attacking the basic worth or value of the person or other essential qualities s such as intelligence, sexuality, “character,” and so on. What all of them reduce to their essence boil down to is that the person is a bad person. When we use them as global labels “John is a failure,” we are saying that John is 100% a failure, has always been a failure, and probably will never be anything but a failure. Clearly this is hugely inaccurate, not to mention unhelpful, and–which brings us to our next proposition–hurtful .  Why do you suppose it is hurtful?

REBT teaches us then when we “rate” a person, it inflames our anger and contempt, creates a false sense of superiority, and causes us to behave toward the person in unhelpful and dysfunctional ways.  When we rate our self, it provokes guilt, shame and self-loathing.  The so call ‘”self-esteem” thing.

e-PRIME special form or a subset of English that eliminates all forms of the verb “to be.” It is not a philosophy, but rather is a tool that makes it much more difficult for us to exaggerate, generalize, label, and rate. If used in a disciplined way, it almost forces us to say #3

“I feel disappointed that you missed our appointment and the previous two as well”  

Therefore, it facilitates the the  Humanist, General Semantics, and REBT approaches beautifully and powerfully. This simple semantic device forces specificity and honesty.  It forces us to be more authentic in our communication with others and to take responsibility for our opinions and feelings rather than making accusations, judgments and evaluations.

So, anytime you speak authentically, take responsibility for your feelings, opinions and judgments, speak in specifics, focus on behavior rather than “self” you are indeed using e-Prime whether you know it or not, whether the other person knows it or not, or whether you call it e-Prime or not. In this context, e-Prime helps us to use the principles of Humanism, General Semantics and REBT to get richer, more intimate more authentic relationships.

And you thought this was “just a matter of  semantics!”


You may also enjoy  Toward Understanding E-Prime

Warm regards,

Khon Kaen, Thailand


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Originally posted 2012-12-31 03:20:25.

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