A couple of people this week have said ‘a tad’ in relation to my person. This is unusually frequent use of the expression ‘a tad’. But more importantly, each time, the context of the ‘tad’ has made me wonder how you would define ‘a tad’. What is a tad, in the world? I have given it some thought, probably too much thought – and I see now that this post means I have taken it too far – and I have come up with some analogies for a tad. One is that a tad is a mosquito-like insect, a type of midge, a very tiny but nevertheless living thing that burrows into a person’s skin and sometimes their eyeballs. A tad might also be a skin tag, like those that sit on my father’s neck, each a tiny bookmark, and also the tiny, tiny ones that are appearing on my own neck; so in essence, a tad is a protrusion that offers you nothing other than a slightly bleak similarity with someone else. A tad might also be a minor-seeming argument with someone, like the argument of being waved across a road by a waiting driver, when you don’t want to cross the road in front of that driver, and then the previously polite driver yells something at you and blasts off. A tad is always pretty small, very small, maybe even invisible, but its hunting territory is wild and various.
I have joined a new gym and as part of joining a new gym I had to meet a personal trainer for one hour. This was so he could measure different things about me and have me step over things and hold a big stick at certain angles. Having been through a few of these sessions at previous gyms, I was prepared for some upbeatness, some asking about my weekend plans, and some cheery undertones of disapproval. For this is the ring of fire we must leap through before being set free to do what we want. After tidying away the big stick and the measuring devices, and solemnly writing down some things, the trainer said, ‘In terms of fat, you could lose a tad.’ So I swept all the things off the trainer’s desk with one arm and then did the fingers and said, ‘Measure this.’
Well, I didn’t. Instead, to the irritation of my future self I nodded and said ‘Yes I know.’ But later I thought about how different ‘a tad’ was to that guy and me. To the trainer, a tad was a flap of the wrist, a couple of digits to write on his form. To me this tad encompassed many, many tads, more than fifteen years of tads: a tad more, a tad less, a tad further, a tad longer; each tad with its own swarm of failures and triumphs. None of these tads would seem significant to anyone else: each was a near-invisible midge, just a speck of life, but at certain times that midge had been eating me alive. Each of those tads was the opposite of how it seemed. Each was truly going somewhere else and meaning more than it appeared to mean. At an Outdoor Pursuits trip I went on as a 13-year-old, my group’s leader, Ron, would say ‘Just around the next corner, folks’ when we asked if we could stop for morning tea yet. Ron was generally annoying, but here he became annoying in a very specific way. Two hours later, hungry and knackered, we would not yet have reached this mythical corner where we would be able to sit down and eat our defrosted Anzac biscuits. Maybe my memory is exaggerating the length of our miserable slog towards the corner, towards the terrible biscuits. That is not the point. All slogs are relative. All tads are relative.
The second instance of ‘a tad’ was more straightforward, perhaps, but it still made me reflect on the gap in meaning between the person’s ‘tad’ and my ‘tad’. I told a friend I was feeling down, and he said to me, ‘Yes you seemed a tad low.’ There was a minimising element to this, as if my lowness were next to nothing, as if I were a bit peckish instead of ravenous, as if I must be a bird instead of a person. It came from kindness, from wishing to dignify. But it made me feel tired, and indeed lower, because it meant I would need to explain that the tad was bigger than a tad. I mean, it was still a tad, I suppose, but the tad was behaving differently for me than it was behaving for onlookers.
I apologise for saying ‘a tad’ so many times in this post. My reason for doing it is so you see what a bad expression it is, and never use it again.
I’m not sure what it would have been better for either of these people to say instead. I like to think that each instance was an attempted kindness, an attempt to dignify something that they saw as a problem or even shameful, and also something that could be quickly stepped over and forgotten. This kind of kindness troubles me because it is only really kind to the person who is saying the words; it means they don’t have to speak openly with you. I like frankness better, a frankness that does not need to measure.