Q. Many of the women you've interviewed for your new book complain of mothers who criticize their appearance. Are they right to be annoyed?
A. "Right" and "wrong" aren't words a linguist uses. My job is to analyze conversations and discover why communications fail. The biggest complaint I hear from daughters is: "My mother's always criticizing me." And the mother counters, "I can't open my mouth; my daughter takes everything as criticism."
But sometimes caring and criticism are found in the same words. When mothers talk about their daughters' appearance, they are often doing it because they feel obligated to tell their daughter something that no one else will.
The mother feels she's caring. The daughter feels criticized. They are both right.
What I try to do is point out each side to each other. So, the mother needs to acknowledge the criticism part, and the daughter needs to acknowledge the caring part. It's tough because each sees only one.