When someone asks you to perform a task, there are many ways to say yes. Yes, for one. There’s also yep, yeah, yea, yup, ya, yessir, you bet, alright, alrighty, absolutely, of course, gladly, sounds good, will do, no problem, aye aye, roger, totally, definitely, and, if you are a trucker, 10-4.
Then, there is my absolute least favorite affirmative phrase: sure. Not to be confused with “sure thing” (folksy, casual) or “for sure” (loose, stoned), sure is a word that makes my skin prick, my eye twitch. Sure is used as “yes,” though it never means “yes.” Sure is a thumbs up to your face, and a jerkoff motion behind your back. Sure says “if I must.” Sure is the Mars Rover of passive aggression — an envoy to see how far you can really go before the other person snaps and says, “You know what, you’re being an asshole.”
Everybody has a word like this that ticks them off. A co-worker told me she once nearly quit her job because someone replied “k” to a request she made. (There was more going on there, but “k” is an act of war. I don’t blame her.) Maybe the word that sets you off is “ya” or “alright.” Those can be annoying words, I agree. But my word is “sure.”
Imagine this scenario. Your friend is throwing a small party, and idly mentions he needs someone to bring over paper plates. You, being a good friend, offer to do so. But he doesn’t say “thank you” or “thanks” or “sounds good” or “that would be great.” You, who is offering to perform this favor! “Sure,” he replies, the bland word dribbling out of his fingers and into the text message. Sure, you can do this for him, if you want. If you must. I guess.
Here’s another scenario. You are supervising a junior employee at work, and ask if he can perform a minor task for you by the end of the day. The task isn’t at all complicated — it’s part of his job, and you’ve given him more than enough time. In fact, by allowing him to focus on this small job, you’re basically allowing him to coast through the day just to get it done. But he doesn’t say “will do” or “I’m on it” or “cool.” “Sure,” he replies, the apathy oozing. He’ll get to it. Yes, it’s something he can do, if it makes you happy, if he must. Why are you getting on his case?
Here’s another scenario. You’re dog sitting for a friend. (Not the friend who threw the party.) After days away, your friend comes back, and asks if he can pick up his dog at 6 p.m. “I won’t be around then,” you say. (You have a job.) “Can we say 7?” “Sure,” he says. 6 would be better, but 7 will do, if it has to. It would be easier for him if it was earlier, but if 7 is better for you, then it’s fine. You, who housed his canine for several days, walking him in the rain, cleaning his poop off the floor — your needs deserve nothing more than a passing nod. But he will allow you to give him back his dog at 7, whatever.
It’s not that I expect everybody to be enthusiastic all the time. That would be obviously fake, or at least unnecessary. But sure slaps down the outreached hand, presented as intent of community and collaboration. Sure considers the offer that has been made in good faith, and says, “You’re inconveniencing me.” Sure assumes the question really means “fuck you,” and responds “fuck you” in kind. It’s the automatic reply in a world where generosity and kindness do not matter. It is chaotic neutral incarnate.
Here’s another thing: Dictionary.com says “sure” comes from the Latin for “free from care.” Dictionary.com does not mention it’s also from the Latin for “free from giving a fuck about you, motherfucker.”