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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Idioms for putting up a false front

Lady Gaga takes outrageous posturing to new heights.
Putting up a false front to impress people is called "posturing." First, what is posture? Basically it means the position of our body, such as standing, sitting, or lying down. Good posture is straight, while bad posture is slumped, twisted, or otherwise distorted. My mother always reminded me to stand up straight so I would have good posture. Good posture prevents joint injuries, bone deterioration, and pain so I try to follow her advice. As I write this I am in a seated posture (I am sitting down).

As I grew up I learned words could have both literal and symbolic meanings. That is when I learned that posture can also mean a symbolic position, such as in the expression “What is your posture on national defense?” In other words, what is your position or what are your views on national defense? In this sense, posture means a carefully thought out view or opinion on any sort of issue. Since the posture is an intellectual position instead of a physical position of the body, this usage is more symbolic.

In addition to its noun uses “posture” can be used as a verb: to posture. To posture means acting out for the benefit of an audience. For example, one way to intimidate people is to act aggressively. Posturing uses insincerity to influence others. Trying to impress people by acting flamboyantly (outrageously) is posturing by Lady Gaga, for example. Off stage she might be a very ordinary person. “Grandstanding” is posturing taken to the extreme. Bragging to everyone about your greatness and taking all the credit for a team effort would be an example of grandstanding.

“Putting on an act” means the same as posturing: pretending to be someone other than yourself. The usual reason for posturing is to manipulate others in various ways, such as pretending to be angry and making empty threats. Growing up we all met bullies in the playground who would threaten or intimidate us. Bullies seek to gain status by exerting power over other people who are usually weaker. People who posture are trying to inflate their own sense of importance and personal power, presumably to compensate for other areas of deficiency. Posturing and grandstanding are superficial behaviors that can only temporarily cover true character. 

Political debates are a great place to watch posturing. Very little information or communication is exchanged. Instead, the candidates puff themselves up to look better than their opponents. You can also see subtle posturing during celebrity interviews, press releases, public announcements, and speeches. Marketing and public relations exist to help posture products or people in popular culture. Innumerable consultants recommend all sorts of image enhancement techniques to posture their clients for consumers and voters.

At work, posturing goes on all the time, from the boss on down. Looking busy when the boss is in the office is a form of posturing, and so is the boss’s VIP corner office and private parking. Business meetings are an ideal environment for posturing because the images we project interacting with others either adds to or subtracts from our reputation. Posturing plays a part in all kinds of negotiations in politics, business, and media.

Many years ago I tried posturing in my first sales job. I bought some fancy suits, had my hair styled (when I had hair!), got a hot tub, and generally tried to act cool and successful. Though I kept this up for a couple of years it did not get me anywhere. I quit trying to be somebody different and focused on being myself. Soon I had a successful business and since then have not experimented with posturing. However, my posture remains important to me as I hear my yoga teacher echo my mother telling me to stand up straight.


Eric Roth said...

Witty primer on the many meanings of posturing. But wouldn't an image of a yoga teacher better fit the actual text?

Thanks for sharing!

Paul Carignan said...

Thanks for your feedback Eric! This topic was a little tricky to write about compared to others. A picture of a yoga teacher would be a great illustration if I had thought of it.

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