Once upon a time – and there probably was a ‘once upon a time’ those very words were used for the very first time – well, once upon a time, if someone started a spoken or written sentence with ‘I don’t mean to be offensive, but…’, it was time to duck. Or run. Or find a really, really big writ. With nails in. Because, quite simply, they were going to be.
Once upon a time – and there really, really was a time when nobody had ever said that before – People might begin a conversation, a response to a comment, even an email (well, after the rock tablet carving industry had gone out of business because people had decided that being able to say things really, really quickly without any need to actually think about what they were saying before, um, saying it, was actually a Good Thing™) with ‘With all due respect’. Which was, again, a good time to take a good look at the whole duck-run-get-a-lawyer thing. Because the odds were they were about to say something that had heard of respect, due or otherwise, and decided it was having nothing to do with it.
But, and here’s the ‘but’ – at least they gave you advance warning. About the incoming offense. Or lack of respect. Or need for a big stick. With nails in.
The thing about both of them was that, in some fashion, the ‘I don’t mean to be offensive’ or the ‘with all due respect’ were in fact magic phrases. They meant something like ‘actually, I am. Going to be, I mean. Or I don’t. Like, don’t respect. But, see, I said the magic words. So you can’t. Be offended, that is. Or think I’m being disrespectful.’
See? Magic words. But at least they gave you advance warning. Time to duck. Or run. Or call a lawyer. With a writ. With nails in.
Of course, the thing with language is, it evolves. It changes. And that whole ‘advance warning’ thing is, it must be said (though with a whole bucket load of ‘I don’t mean to be offensive’-s, and ‘with all due respect’-s) for wimps.
The current get-out-of-jail free card seems to be ‘I’m just sayin’’. Or, were one to be pedantic, ‘saying’. But you don’t say it ahead of whatever you’re ‘just sayin’’. After all, it might give the person you’re talking to time to duck. Or run. Or get a new bag of nails to start a writ.
Or even to ignore you.
You say it after. After the other stuff. The stuff for which you still want the magic words.
Because, after all, you were 'just sayin’', right? You weren’t deliberately trying to be offensive. To lack respect. To attack.
No. Nobody offended me recently, with or without magic words :-). But when you write (and, most likely, when you read), you tend to see words. A lot. It’s sort of inevitable. And sometimes you see patterns. So what other ones are there? What other ‘magic words’ do people use when they mean the exact opposite of what they’re saying?