Your mileage may vary. How very true.

Automakers faced quite a challenge when the EPA began requiring them to publish miles-per-gallon stats for new vehicles. After all, how can you create a “one size fits all” average when one driver floors it, and the other feathers it?

You can’t. But you can create an approximate average that works by appending the brilliantly weasel-worded phrase: “Your mileage may vary.”

What appears to be a prosaic afterthought is actually a deep, rich koan worthy of extended study. Or at least, daily use.

“That movie sucked, BUT your mileage may vary.”

“I hate lobster, BUT your mileage may vary.”

“That color makes my eyes bleed, BUT your mileage my vary.”

Your mileage may vary is one of those phrases of crystalline truth, and right up there with Rumi’s “It is what it is.

YMMV is a balm that can and should be applied liberally to enable friction-free social interaction. It allows one to broadcast an opinion strongly while allowing others copious room for taking exception. It’s a way of stating your position clearly and definitively, but also enabling friends and loved ones to hold an opposing position with equal passion. It’s a linguistic way to have your cake—and eat it too.

Consider the difference:

“That movie sucks.”
Inherent implication: “And you’re an idiot if you like it.”

vs.

“That movies sucks, but your mileage may vary.”
Inherent implication: “Hey, you might like it—that’s cool. Want to spend a hour vigorously defending our respective positions over a few beers?”

“Your mileage my vary” is a idiomatic Get Out of Jail Free card. It allows you to have an opinion, but doesn’t embed said opinion in conversational concrete.

I’ve come to love YMMV, and have, over the last couple of weeks, overused the hell out of it. I’ve realized its greatest strength is its core acceptance that an opposing point-of-view is not just possible, but likely. Your experience may be different—and probably is.

I saw this dynamic in action just last week. A colleague was about to present results she considered disastrous. My counsel: present the results factually, without prejudice, and see what happens. And guess what? Their mileage did vary. And her problem suddenly wasn’t.

– dp

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