Monday, September 16, 2013

P&M XI - No offense meant

(We are back at Phrases and Meanings again. You can torture yourself with the entire series here)

I have always been fascinated by this story that is told in various versions. The version that I had runs something like this

An old King wanted to get back his youth and, tyrannical as kings could be, declared that he would put all his doctors to death unless they found him a way. The distressed doctors went to their chief pleading him to find a way out of this dilemma. The old doctor came to the king with a vial of medicine and said "Your Majesty! Drink this medicine and, if for the next twenty-four hours, you do not think of mangoes at all you will regain your youth." The King rewarded the doctor handsomely and took the medicine but, to his vexation, found that he could think of nothing but mangoes the whole of the next twenty-four hours thus losing, as he thought, his chance at regaining his youth.

Whenever I hear the phrase, "No offense meant but..." I am reminded of this tale. I have never heard of a more counter-productive phrase than this, specifically when it is used at the beginning. The moment you hear it, you are automatically tuned to seeing whatever comes afterwards as potentially, if not actually, offensive when, without that preamble, you may never have thought of being offended. Why, I daresay that in most cases if you said "No offense meant but you look lovely today" the other person would start thinking, "Ah! Since there is something offensive in this, he must mean that I have never looked lovely till today" or, worse still, "So! He is so surprised that even I can look lovely. What an a******". Drop that phrase and things may be far more pleasant.

The phrase may have more meaning when said at the end - especially when you can see the other person and judge that offense has been taken. Though, I hardly think that saying this is automatically likely to incline the other person to thinking that you really did not mean any offense.

There are variants of this phrase - meant to soothe any possible hurt - and not really serving the purpose. Like "Don't take me otherwise" which automatically inclines the other person into thinking of all the other ways that it can be taken and the most offensive ones at that.

I, particularly, have an aversion to the "maybe it is only me". It sounds, invariably to me, too much like, "Of course it is not only me but who knows what an idiot like you can get into his stupid brain". Or, maybe, it is only me who takes it like this.

Saying something that has the potential to hurt someone is a difficult art and, if you have not mastered it, it is best to avoid doing so. If it is unavoidable, however, these shortcuts are really no help and there is no point in whining, "I said no offense meant and the other person still took offense." Don't take me otherwise, though, for these opinions - maybe it is only me!

40 comments:

  1. He he, wonderful post once again - but what if the person who wanted to pay a complement to the lady and hadn't gather the courage to say so on her face before - may have taken shelter behind the phrase, don't you think :)

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    1. I am advising to take that phrase after telling the compliment and gauging the reaction than before and spoil it all :)

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  2. Yep these phrases are meant to tone down what is to follow -- a sort of trying to lessen the impact of something nasty that is about to be said. Don't get me wrong, but what else can a poor person do in a soupy situation? :).

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    1. Not say it if possible or say it without the phrse - why waste words that have no impact or negative impact :)

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  3. Hehehh...I wonder if 'I didn't want to say this but' gets covered as part of this post or if you'll be addressing that separately!
    Totally, totally agree with your pov. I don't think you'll take offense my saying so!

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    1. Well - if you say it after it is always better, Rickie :)

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  4. Lol, the last line crowns the whole post. I agree, 'No offence meant' is definitely that mango in a different form! :D

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    1. Hahaha! And if the last line did not work with someone who uses these phrases, he ought to know the efficacy of using these phrases :)

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  5. No offences meant Suresh, but I must say that I agree with you on this :D

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    1. Now does that mean that Animesh agrees for the first time with me or is surprised that I have said something sensible that he can agree with? Hmmm! Sochna padega :)

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  6. Dont' take this otherwise Suresh, but this was yet another lovely post from you, as has become the norm.

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  7. You know, that "maybe it is only me" also translates into - I know it is only me, who can think so intelligently or opine so well. I am a superman. And, if is usually not only them, but borrowed "wisdom" from here and there. :) I am giggling, as I usually do reading your 'Phrases' posts. And I love how you use ALL the phrases that you lampoon in your post in the last sentence of every post, so very aptly. :)

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    1. Hahaha! I sure try to - use them aptly I mean :)

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  8. Gosh! The more I read of your posts, the less I will open my mouth! ;)

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    1. By the time I finish this series the world will be dumbstruck :)

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  9. A similar situation which I often face is when my mother tells me something that she'd want, and I'd explain what I want, and then she'd acquiesce saying "Okay, you should follow the heart, but you know better." That, 'you know better', 'you're the better judge', they are torturous, just like this 'No offence intended.'

    Interesting read.

    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. Now you have given me ideas for future posts. Thanks :)

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  10. Suresh i agree totally with you-it is so counter productive to start a dialogue with 'no offense meant'.
    All these posts of yours have got me thinking.Now i will have to be very careful while listening to people-what exactly they mean to say.And also while talking!

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    1. Now I indeed feel very happy, Indu! If I have made communication more clear, I have really done something useful :)

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  11. This is one your helpful posts. The others in the serious made me laugh, but this one kept me thinking. Keep them coming, Suresh.

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    1. Hmm! Thanks Diwa! I do try to have something to think about in most of my posts - especially in this series which is all about communication - but, yes, different people get tickled into thinking by different things. :)

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  12. :) Don't take it otherwise, but maybe its only me who found this hilarious! I encounter these every single day.. And sometimes use these to offend people, while being politically correct! Good One!

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  13. a case of having the cake and eating it too!

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    1. Always wondered about this one - does that mean you put on double the weight? :)

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    2. Same here, though not in terms of the measuring scales( like to pretend they don't exist). But about the "having" and " eating" being the same...

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  14. Ha ha Suresh, as Tachna said it just serves to prepare the person on what is to follow like ' I have bad news' hi hi .

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    1. And the problem is that after that preamble even good news sounds bad :)

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  15. A good read this was! Loved it Suresh ji

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  16. It basically means that - Look, I think you are a fool but...
    There is no better way of telling someone that he is an idiot.
    The story was good though.

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    1. Well! I am too much of a fool myself to be too easy with calling others idiots. Thanks for appreciating the story at least :)

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  17. people usually use these to sublime the next offensive bouncer.The most maddening phrase for me is "No pun intended" and the after sarcastic comments.

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    1. That thing is a real pain - particularly when you cannot figure out what that pun could be :)

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  18. I don't want to sound stuffy, but................................You're bang on, Suresh! :D

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    1. Hahaha! If this is your notion of stuffy be stuffy by all means :)

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  19. No offense really irks me no end. I know what's coming.

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    1. It actually prepares you to take offense :)

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