A bit ago I was scrolling the dash and noted someone had posted their response to an anonymous question. The anonymous sender asked: “Do you believe in tumblr romance?”
Now, I realize this word was technically used correctly, as the second definition of the word “believe” is “to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something”, and the third definition is “to hold an opinion”. I have no doubt these definitions were added as the usage of the word evolved over time to encompass these meanings, and I have no problem whatsoever with language as a dynamic and fluid thing — I’m a writer, for fuck’s sake. Words are tools, and the key to word usage, as with any other tools, is to choose the most accurate and effective word to get your message across to your reader. Can you hammer a screw into place? Probably, but a screwdriver would be far more effective. Can you screw a Phillip’s head screw in with a flat head screwdriver? Sure, if that’s all you’ve got — but a Phillip’s head screwdriver of the correct size to fit the screw’s head is the best choice for the job.
If someone asks me if I believe in something, whereby they mean to inquire as to my opinion on the issue, I tend to respond in a snarky manner. Had I been asked the aforementioned anon question (and been the type to respond to such things, which I’m not, really), I would have responded that based on all evidence I’ve observed I do believe in tumblr romance, because I happen to have a number of friends who have been part of tumblr romances, a few of whom are presently living together, under the same roof, in the offline world. Therefore, clearly tumblr romances exist.
If you want to know someone’s opinion on something that clearly exists, simply ask them that. You stand a far greater chance of getting the information you seek. Believe is a hammer. All well and good if you’re using it on a nail (e.g. “Do you believe in ghosts?” or “Do you believe in love at first sight?”) (Sidebar: “Do you believe in UFOs?” is quite possibly the worst question ever. It clearly evinces a failure to realize that UFO stands for “unidentified flying object” — it does not mean “spacecraft piloted by aliens from another planet”. Accordingly, of course I believe in UFOs, as should everyone. I see shit flying in the air that I can’t identify every fucking day. I’m not a goddamn expert on flying things. Ahem.). Mere opinions are screws. To effectively deal with them, say something such as “what is your opinion on …” or “what are your thoughts on …”. Or, if you insist on using the word believe, explain your meaning further, e.g., “Do you believe tumblr romances are a good thing?” This I find begrudgingly acceptable. The begrudging part relates to my feelings on efficiency in word choice. Simply put, if you have to use four extra words to explain what you meant by one word, it ain’t the right word.
Ask for thoughts, opinions, feelings on things that obviously exist. Save the word believe for things about which there is legitimate existential debate.