For no particular reason, I thought of an observation that lexicographer (and old college pal) Erin McKean had about the word “classy,” the gist of which was that if someone used the word to describe themselves, it was often quite obvious that they were in fact the opposite. Someone else calls you “classy”? Maybe you are. Call someone else “classy”? Maybe they are, too. Call yourself “classy”? It’s what you’re trying to sell yourself as, not necessarily what you are.
It occurs to me that this idea has application outside of the word “classy,” since I’ve often found that the adjectives people use to describe themselves exist on a spectrum with “aspirational” on one end and “delusional” on the other, with otherwise very little correlation to who they actually are:
“I am a humble man.”
“I’m a funny guy.”
And so on.
As there already exists a “McKean’s Law” with respect to words (“Any correction of the speech or writing of others will contain at least one grammatical, spelling, or typographical error”), allow me instead to suggest what I will henceforth label “McKean’s Inversion,” to wit:
The adjective a person says they are is frequently the thing they are not.
To put it in writing terms, it’s a fine example of “show, don’t tell.” Classy people don’t need to assert they’re classy, they do classy things. Funny people don’t have to assure you they’re funny, they simply make you laugh. Kind people don’t need to verbally advertise their kindness, because it’s evident in their lives. All of which is to say the way to be seen as funny, or kind, or humble, or classy, is to be that thing. And if you are, chances are pretty good other people will note it.
In any event, keep McKean’s Inversion in mind the next time you have the urge to tell rather than show what you see as your own best qualities. People may not have a term in their head for McKean’s Inversion, but, believe me, they know it exists.