The Journal of Applied Impossibility
NOTE: this was originally written for my personal site on May 18, 2018. I then deleted it, and thought about re-publishing. This should give you an idea of how long it takes me to get over my discomfort with sharing my thoughts.
The titular phrase is a part of our workaday lexicon, and I confess that it has always struck me as odd. It is odd because it seems to mean one thing to most people, but whenever I hear it, it sounds like it should mean just the opposite. This strikes me as a microcosm of the collapse of intelligent conversation in the world today. I will also suggest an alternative to this understanding that may be the last great hope for preserving such discourse.
I am accustomed to hearing the cliche uttered by people I know outside of Academe. From the time I began teaching undergraduates, they have been using it. Lately, to my horror, I have noticed it among my friends. The overwhelming majority of this latter group are graduate-educated, which is part of what continues to shock me every time I hear one of them use the phrase.
it's clear what it means.
NB: if it is ever the case, I believe that you have a duty to tell me so.
The problem is that we already have a word for agreeing to disagree: that's called an argument. Not a fight. Not a shouting match. An argument.
N.B.: According to my favorite source for candidate facts, one of the first written attestations of "Agree to disagree" comes from John Wesley. As a former Methodist, I feel the obligation to defend him on this point by noting that he used scare-quotes to attribute the expression to George Whitefield, in whose eulogy Wesley used the phrase.
If there is a point to this, I would like it to make an injunction to the reader, and to do so explicitly. Let us agree to stop using this phrase. Instead, I propose the following alternatives as possibilities:
1.) I disagree, and am not open to changing my mind about this. You shouldn't waste your time talking to me about this any more.
2.) I disagree, but we don't have enough time to go over all of our reasons now. We can continue to return to it later.
There are surely other possibilities, and I encourage the reader to explore them instead.
I write about all sorts of things. This is one of the places where I do it.