Protesting Too Much

The lady doth protest too much, methinks. — Queen Gertrude, Hamlet

To “protest too much” is to insist so passionately about something not being true that people suspect the opposite of what you are saying.

Pocket English Idioms

In American English, the phrase “the lady doth protest too much” definitely indicates that you think the subject’s ardent denial of a proposition is meant to cover up its embarrassing truth.

Another form of “protesting too much” is for two people to have a staged conversation for the benefit of a third party. For instance, if a teenager has skipped school, she might bring a friend home with her that afternoon and make a point of discussing their day “at school” in front of her mother. If the discussion seems unusually elaborate, the mother might begin to suspect something. Why? The daughter is “protesting” too much.

This method can also be used on the internet by one person posting under two or more usernames. Someone and his sock puppet can carry on what appears to be a casual conversation, while deliberately inserting specific comments or questions designed to give a certain impression. The problem with this, and what the “protester” in this case often fails to realize, is that the very person for whom he has staged the performance, is the one most likely to see it for what it is.

The reason is simple: while the conversation may appear perfectly random or innocuous to outsiders, the comments and questions must be somewhat specific to the target audience if there is any chance of creating the desired effect — sending a specific message to a specific individual(s). The irony is that this is also the very thing which undermines the desired effect. It’s something of a Catch-22.

It’s a very obvious and desperate tactic most often used by people whose backs are against the wall. At the risk of sounding arrogant, the people I’ve seen doing this are never close to being as clever as they think they are. That’s why they do it in the first place — they don’t recognize the flaws. Nevertheless, I do admit to getting a certain amount of satisfaction from watching a worm squirm.

Oddly, a verse from the Bible just sprung to mind, and I think it would make a very appropriate closing to this entry:

[…] be sure your sins will find you out. — Numbers 32:23

Posted by Lottie — Copyright © 2008 Rambling On

You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this: