Better left unsaid? 不说为妙

2024-05-14 13:53:17

Reader question:

Please explain this passage, with “better left unsaid” in particular:

If you have something to say that could upset someone, consider how you can express it in a more tactful and respectful way. And if you can’t? Maybe it’s better left unsaid.

My comments:

Better, as in better off.

If you refrain from saying something because you can’t put it in a respectful manner, perhaps everybody involved will be better off.

That’s the idea.

Here, “it” refers to words, either advice or criticism, that may cause anger or resentment rather than acceptance or compliance. That is, even if what you want to tell other people is well meant, if you don’t express your ideas in a good way, you may cause upset instead of receiving a constructive and therefore desirable response.

Left unsaid? Left out, that is, and not said.

If you swear and curse and use all sorts of four-letter words, for example, people will close off their ears and ignore you altogether.

All those four-letter words are, therefore, better left unsaid. In other words, you should’ve kept those words for yourself. Others don’t need to hear it.

Now, that’s better.

Anyways, “some things or words are better left unsaid” is a common enough saying that is used in situations where some topic should not be discussed or even mentioned because it is offensive, inappropriate or otherwise problematic.

And here are media examples:

1. Several times in the past 50 years, I’ve heard the old adage, “Some things are better left unsaid!” It means that some thoughts SHOULD NOT BE VOCALIZED… usually because it could offend listeners or get the speaker in trouble. That may very well be true, but when you’re delivering a presentation… especially telling a story… that is NOT always the best advice.

When delivering a presentation or telling a story word selection is vital. Our language must be clear (clarity, clarity, clarity!) and easy to understand and follow. That’s a principle that I’ve practiced and taught for years. However, it’s CRITICAL to understand the power of what the audience SEES during your presentation. Your body, your face, and your movement can magnify and reinforce your words. That’s another principle that I’ve practiced and taught.

However, here’s a thought. At times, your body, your face and your movement can REPLACE your words… to great effect. Think about your stories. As you share your stories, it’s quite likely that you set the atmosphere, introduce characters, and take us through their experiences. Let’s create a simple example: A 10-year old boy is sitting at the table refusing to eat his vegetables and his mom asks why. You would not be alone if, as you tell the story, you say something like, “He scrunched up his face as he looked up at her and said, ‘It’s GROSS mom!’” making a disgusting face as you deliver the boy’s words with child-like disgust. There’s NOTHING wrong with that. In fact, using the boy’s voice and making a face is EXACTLY what I teach speakers to do.

Here’s where the old adage comes into play. As you tell the story, DO NOT SAY “He scrunched up his face as he looked up at her and said” Instead, MAKE THE FACE, LOOK UP as if you were a 10-year-old looking up his mother, and IN A CHILD’S VOICE, say, “It’s GROSS, mom!” The DESCRIPTION of the scene is better left unsaid. Let the ACTION tell the story.

- BETTER LEFT UNSAID, by Mark Brown,, August 19, 2020.

2. At Munich, Germany’s Pinakothek der Moderne museum – one of Europe’s finest modern art galleries, showcasing the priceless works of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Keith Haring, Max Ernst, and so on – a mysterious painting hung alongside famous paintings by Andy Warhol for eight hours.

It was hours later by the time museum staff realized it was illegally hung by one of their own – an unnamed 51-year-old employee and aspiring guerrilla artist. The museum promptly fired the employee upon learning of his prank, however the only permanent damage he did was drill two holes in the gallery wall.

The artist seemed to say to himself, “Why isn’t my art just as good?” and hung his own art without permission. The man hung his art “in the hope of achieving his artistic breakthrough”, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung first reported, citing the police as a source.

The Guardian reports that on Tuesday, the southern Germany museum confirmed that it had fired an employee from its technical services team after he was caught hanging his own painting in a part of the gallery that showcases works by Warhol, whom High Times interviewed in the August 1977 issue, as well as other famous modern and contemporary artists.

This particular artist says he just wanted people to see his art. “The employee considers himself as an artist and most likely saw his role in the museum’s installation team as a day-job to support his true calling,” a spokesperson for the Pinakothek told the Guardian.

Some things are better left unsaid: Instead of drawing more attention, the museum staff decided to just leave it up there until closing time. “The decision was made to keep the picture on display while the gallery was open and take it down after its closing time at 6:00 pm,” the spokesperson continued.

The Pinakothek decided to hide photos of his art from the public in order to discourage copycat pranksters. “All I can say is that we did not receive any positive feedback on the addition from visitors to the gallery,” the spokesperson quipped. The museum is located in Munich’s Kunstareal museum quarter, and it also showcases notable architecture and design works.

The New York Times called it a “reverse art heist,” – an act in which the artist hangs his or her own art on the wall of a museum without permission. It’s also called guerrilla art, an art form that was perfected by artists like Banksy.

- Worker Fired After Hanging His Own Painting Next to Warhols at Modern Art Museum in Germany,, April 15, 2024

3. For years, Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump have been locked in a public battle over an alleged sexual encounter, a hush-money deal paid by the former president’s fixer, and their respective efforts to own the very public narrative.

Those tensions – and the salacious details that surround them – spilled out in court on Tuesday when Ms Daniels took the stand in Mr Trump’s criminal trial to face him in court for the first time.

The former adult-film star, wearing loose-fitting black clothes and her hair pinned back, did not look at the former president for most of the day, except when she noted his dark blue suit after she was asked to point him out.

She spent much of her time on the stand recounting the sexual encounter that she claims to have had with the defendant – an act that sparked the allegations at the heart of the case – and pushing back at his legal team’s scathing questions.

Mr Trump, meanwhile, spent parts of her evidence cursing and shaking his head. That prompted a warning from the judge, according to court transcripts published at the end of the day.

The former president faces 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. The charges stem from an alleged attempt to conceal a $130,000 payment to Ms Daniels aimed to keep her quiet about the purported tryst.

He has pleaded not guilty and denies any sexual encounter with her, though he has acknowledged that his ex-lawyer, Michael Cohen, paid her a sum to keep quiet about her claims.

As the woman who received the money, Ms Daniels was expected to appear in court at some point. But her testimony on Tuesday brought the most dramatic day of the trial yet.

She provided such lurid details about her encounter with Mr Trump that his lawyers called for a mistrial. Justice Juan Merchan acknowledged “there were some things that would have been better left unsaid” and warned prosecutors not to ask for specifics of such a personal nature.

The details, which she has previously shared, included her claim that they did not use a condom, that she spanked Mr Trump with a magazine, and the answers she allegedly elicited from the former president about his wife.

- Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels face off on tense day in court,, May 8, 2024.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣   编辑:丹妮)