Albert Anker, Der Grossvater erzählt eine Geschichte (detail), 1884.
One of the least endearing human verbal quirks is the “true story.” You know the drill: someone is telling some anecdote and at the end, the raconteur pauses dramatically and says, “True story.” In every single case, you’d had no reason to question the story’s credibility. In every single case, the story has been interminable. In every single case, the teller delivers the line with the air that he’s certainly blown your mind. He’s never blown your mind.
It seems to me that these true stories are often told in situations where you’re trapped: on planes, in taxis, on line. Sometimes the person will say, “I swear to God,” or “I shit you not.” If you say, “Seriously?”—trying to communicate the proper level of reaction—he’ll say, “Serious as a heart attack.”
Usually you don’t say “Seriously?” though. Usually you say, “Wow,” or try to make your face look really impressed. You wonder momentarily if they don’t say it when they’re lying or if they only say it when they’re lying. And you wonder what it would be like to have the confidence to be a “true story” teller—to believe you had the power to blow minds daily. It must be kind of scary.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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