I’ve always wanted an eponymous law, but I never thought I’d arrive at anything profound enough to coin…until today. For your consideration, I submit Sikernitsky’s Razor, or as I prefer, Frank’s Sledgehammer.

As deep background, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’ve burned out on the concept of drama. I’m getting old, and I no longer live to create or consume more meaningless life drama. The kinds of jobs I do no longer feature long stretches of free time.

I also realized I have grown tired of complicated answers to simple questions. They are merely additional drama. I want ‘yes’ or ‘no’, and I get Hamilton. Actually, I’ll get Weekend At Bernie’sMemento, or on rare occasions, a poorly-colorized version of .

Patient Zero

This afternoon, I asked somebody if they’d finished a particular task. “Did you finish?” was a pretty clear query. But they talked. And talked. They took a few steps towards a whiteboard and started charting the answer in some sort of 2D interpretation of 7-dimensional chess. So, here, they are, confronted by a Yes to No question, and they literally illustrate their response. Instead of a snarky comment or a brusque dismissal, I had one of those moments of clarity. All of my senses fell away, and I was ensconced in the blinding purity of reason, a transcendent experience like grasping the Cartesian concept of a perfect triangle or the third act of The Godfather.

I said it out loud:

“Every Word Between Yes and No is Bullshit.”

Now, there is an entire holistic range between ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, at once sad and beautiful, subtle and gross. A canyon of variety. A palette of emotional color and depth that defies description. Yet people still try in the most inappropriate of circumstances. Therein lies my ire. It is, in a word, wordy.

I am not at odds with nuance. Most of the greatest works of art, music, and literature hinge on exploring that grey area. But I choose to explore those realms of my own accord; I grant them claim to my time.

I do not consent to have my time worn thin because somebody feels the need to ‘give some color.’ Worse yet, many seem to embrace ‘a story’ as somehow superior to a definitive answer, even if there is one. And finally, having to watch people who are terrified of saying ‘No,’ erecting ever more elaborate contrivances just to avoid the word, as if it would open the seventh seal and usher in the End of Days, or at the very least chop 300 points off their credit score.

I couldn’t let it go. Was it just me? Was I being grumpy? Or was there more to it?

The Experiment

The wheels started turning. In a way, this behavior reminded me of Veblen’s theory of conspicuous consumption — people eschew economic efficiency to signal status. They buy a Ferrari when a Toyota provides the same amount of transportation at 15% of the cost because “screw you.” People will spend more to influence perception, except in our case, people spend more words. Below is the idea expressed in a chart…because you can’t have an eponymous law without a chart…

Every Word Between Yes and No Is BS ChartIn basic terms, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ are definite answers to a binary question. Mathematically, any response outside that list is a null set and literally has no value. This, in and of itself, proves the theory.

But we humans are rarely binary, so if we look at the quality of the answer, we see more exciting trends. To arrive at this data, I asked my staff several questions. I charted responses to yes/no queries against where the issue stood in actual, measurable terms.

Despite having already half-assed their assignments for the week, they gave me pretty good data. It also drove them mad.

As I said, the actual value of Yes or No peaks at the extremes. Yet, in their answers, the respondents pushed a different agenda. Their perception of value peaks slightly past Yes and then drops to a very low value as it approaches ‘No.’ In fact, the perceived value of a ‘No’ is almost nothing when in reality, it has equal usefulness to a ‘Yes.’ The average person is terrified of saying ‘No’ because it seems to beg a confrontation.

The Zone of Bullshit

So, we define a Zone of BS in subtracting reality from perception. This area is where the respondent believes (or merely acts) as if a qualified or noncommittal answer has far more value than it really does. In short, the curve defines the depth of the bullshit required to make the response.

A fascinating note here is the length of the answers. As the response got closer to No, the number of words increased  — then dropped to nothing. This showed the value of the answer is roughly inversely proportional to its length.

In the end, uncertainty is the true enemy, not negativity. There may be more polite ways to put it, but I’ll take a Yes or No over the bullshit anytime — the numbers don’t lie. Every Word between Yes and No is Bullshit.


Editor’s Note: I omitted the 4,500-word review of relevant literature; however, I will drop a bunch of names if that makes some people feel better. They include but are not limited to: Frankfurt, Kant, Descartes, Milgram, Chomsky, Carlin, Brando, and Cookie Monster.

You’re just going to have to take my 8 words for it.

Originally published in October ’17 and updated in the intervening years for content and snark.