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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

"It's somebody else's fault, not mine." The world has heard excuses like this since Adam ate the fruit in the Garden of Eden, and told God it was Eve's fault. We use excuses to get us off the hook when we mess up.

There are traditional excuses like: "That's not my job," "I thought I told you," "I had a flat tire," "Our electricity went off, and the alarm clock didn't wake me up," "No one told me" and the old standby, "We've always done it this way."

How many students, when asked why they didn't hand in an assignment, used the excuse, "My dog ate it"? Technology and the "you aren't responsible for your actions" trend of the 1990s call for modern ways of saying, "It's not my fault." To bring my readers up to speed, I have prepared a "Manual of the Top 10 Modern Excuses."

Explanations of excuses follow to demonstrate how they can be used when a good excuse is called for.

10. I'm a victim of ... ( fill in with any of the latest politically correct, pop-psychology babble). This can be effective in a court of law, at work or in your personal life. The important thing to remember is that whatever happened isn't your fault. It may be the fault of your parents, your peers while growing up, society, the economy, El Ni?o, anything. Victims can't be blamed.

9. We've been having trouble with our mail service. This works because the post office is such an easy target. Stick to the story that you mailed it and it didn't arrive, or you didn't receive it, and you'll probably be off the hook for a while. This excuse is gradually being replaced by excuse No. 8, however.

8. Didn't you get my fax?/ If you sent me a fax, I didn't get it. This one works only if both parties have fax machines. It works best if secretaries are responsible for actually sending or receiving fax messages. Blame them.

7. Nobody told me it was due today. A great excuse; it shifts the blame from the person who didn't do the job to the one who ordered it done. Should there be a memo on file spelling out the particulars, this is a loser. In this case, try No. 10 or No. 6.

6. There must have been a communication breakdown. This is effective and sophisticated because no one knows what a communication breakdown looks like. What can the boss say? If you mess up, blame it on the system. This excuse can be used interchangeably with most of the other nine excuses listed in this manual, especially No. 5.

5. You may not know it, but I suffer from attention-deficit disorder (translation: I can't pay attention). It replaces, "I forgot," "I don't remember being told that" or "I guess I misunderstood the instructions." I myself suffered from this dreaded ailment in grade school and high school, and I didn't know it. Shoot, I never paid attention to anything.

The military healed me in a way that would have amazed Oral Roberts. You see, I figured out right away that failure to pay attention could be harmful to my well-being. I was healed. Don't let this happen to you. It's a '90s kind of excuse. Use it.

4. Someone must be intercepting my e-mail. This works because people like to believe conspiracy theories. The mysterious "someone" other than you is responsible for you not getting the word.

3. I don't understand; the batteries in my cell phone must be dead. An excuse based on a breakdown in technology is about as effective as a communication breakdown. Warning: Use this excuse if the boss knows enough about computers to reject No. 4. He probably doesn't know much about cell phones.

2. We don't have the software to do that. This excuse replaces "We've always done it this way," "I'm too busy to take on a new project" and "Let's first hire a consultant."

Here it is, excuse No. 1. Shine the spotlight and roll the drums:

1. My computer went down. This can be used in virtually all situations. Confessing a bad memory might label you a nincompoop, but your computer's memory going south is another matter. A can't-lose excuse.

In the event that I ever submit a Rusty Saber column after deadline, I'll use No. 1. The editor might buy it. It beats the heck out of "My dog ate it."

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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