Weaselly Words Introducing Some Verbal Bomb


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Weaselly Words Introducing Some Verbal Bomb

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Jan 21, 2014, 12:26 pm

The Wall Street Journal has an amusing and interesting article, "Why Verbal Tee-Ups Like 'To Be Honest' Often Signal Insincerity," on preparatory or introductory phrases in conversation.

To be honest... (You were BSing me before?)
I not saying... (Oh, yes, you are...)
Don't take this the wrong way... (How else to take it?)
I hear what you are saying... (Good for you...)
I just want you to know... (Oy, here it comes!)

Jan 21, 2014, 2:17 pm

An interesting article. And perhaps there are 'private' weasel words. For example my wife (Alison) claims that when I start a sentence with "Alison" it's definitely a warning that what's coming next will be a criticism or at least has to be taken seriously.

Jan 21, 2014, 8:40 pm

The only thing I managed to teach my teenage nephew was to stop using the word "whatever."

Well, I assuming it worked…

Jan 23, 2014, 1:17 am

My favorite is still "I’m not a racist, but...".

Which in practice always means "(...but I'm about to say something incredibly bigoted)".

Which is actually a sign of progress: even bigots are now aware that bigotry is something that needs to be ritually denied in polite society.

Jan 23, 2014, 3:19 am

"I’m not a racist, but..." is only one of many children in the family of "I have nothing against xxxxs, but..."

Jan 23, 2014, 8:59 am

One of my personal favorites...(?) The person in charge of accounting at place where a friend works frequently used the kick off phrase, "I'm not criticizing you, but..." My friend claimed that you could hear gnashing of teeth, unscrewing of aspirin bottle caps and resume updating whenever the phrase was heard (apparently, my friend has very sensitive hearing).

Jan 23, 2014, 9:12 am

"I'm sorry, but...." is a common one I hear. The speaker isn't really sorry, they are actually irritated or even angry.

Here in the American South, the most famous version of this is "Bless her heart..." which 99% of the time precedes a terrible backhanded compliment.

Jan 23, 2014, 9:28 am

The local variant here is "Of course, she has the best of intentions, ..."

Jan 23, 2014, 9:38 am

I've heard "Bless her heart" for years and don't think I've been attuned to the meaning there! That is, it was clear to me the person was not fawning over whomever they mentioned, but you've clarified things for me a bit.

I don't live in the American South so it's possible I've heard inauthentic uses of the term on TV and such. But I'll listen with an interested ear from now on ....

Jan 23, 2014, 10:12 am

>9 elenchus:

A friend of mine, Celia Rivenbark called her first collection of humor columns Bless your heart, tramp. She maintains that the purpose of the phrase is to be able to say really insulting things without being called out for being impolite unladylike.

Jan 23, 2014, 10:35 am

Insincerity isn't always a bad thing. Life is full of occasions where you need to preserve polite, respectful relations with someone, but have to tell them something disagreeable. If we didn't have these meaningless little bits of insincerity, it would be very difficult. You can't reply to a letter from a customer telling him honestly that he is an idiot who is wasting our time; you can't tell an attorney that what he's just said is a pack of lies...

Jan 23, 2014, 10:48 am

A through white lie or dishonest reply is one thing, but I think we are more discussing the lying introduction here.

"I hate to criticise how people are dressed, but that skirt is ugly as hell". (No, you don't hate criticising people, you love it.)

Jan 23, 2014, 10:54 am

I don't think it's the insincerity that's the problem, but the implicit contradiction. The person who says "I'm not a racist, but..." is probably wrong, but perfectly sincere in his own mind.

Jan 23, 2014, 11:02 am

To be honest, I often say "to be honest" -- but I use it as a kind of emphasis, rather than a deception.

Jan 23, 2014, 1:51 pm

It's another form of PC that has snaked its way into the spoken lexicon that drives people nuts. :)