1. Education
Richard Nordquist

This Is for Your Own Good—and Other Phony Phrases

By February 16, 2011

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Sixty years ago, columnist Sydney J. Harris began compiling a Dictionary of Pharisaical Phrases--expressions that mean the opposite of what they say. "Whenever people want to hurt others, and gratify themselves," Harris observed, "they begin with a mealy-mouthed phrase."

Harris's work was left unfinished, and, unfortunately, there's no evidence that verbal hypocrisies (Sir Arnold Lunn called them phrops) have diminished over the years. Therefore, I'm sure you won't mind if I pick up this project where Harris left off--with examples adapted from essays in his collection Strictly Personal (1953). . . .

If you have any candidates for the new Dictionary of Phony Phrases, please click on "comments" and send them along. After all, this is for your own good, and I'm thinking only of your best interests.

For the complete article (revised and expanded), see A Dictionary of Phony Phrases.


February 17, 2011 at 2:30 pm
(1) Nelida K. says:

Enjoyed this post tremendously.

What about: “I´m sure that you are already aware that”….meaning “Get ready to be shocked by what I’m about to tell you”.

February 21, 2011 at 10:26 am
(2) Charles Marsh says:

I regret to inform you that you left “I regret to inform you” off your list. Pointing this out hurts me more than it hurts you.

February 21, 2011 at 10:43 am
(3) CM Marcum says:

In the Deep South, when a speaker begins or ends a sentence with ‘Bless his heart’ they are going to say something really insulting about that person.

“Bless his heart, he was born without a brain in his head.”

February 21, 2011 at 10:52 am
(4) Susan says:

The non-apology apology: “I’m sorry that you feel that way about… “

February 21, 2011 at 10:59 am
(5) MTman says:

I do not kinow the classification of these, used incessantly by political talking heads, but it seems they may border on the Pharisical (probably more like a cliché): “The fact of the matter is …,” “The bottom line is …” When people can not define or list items needed to justify an expense they throw in “infrastructure” and “we are EXCITED.” I have classified these last two as “cotton candy” words – a new idea I thought of many years ago.

February 21, 2011 at 11:19 am
(6) Elsie says:

When you really don’t care about or believe the others opinion on a topic….”everyone’s intitled to their opinion”

February 21, 2011 at 11:35 am
(7) ferrierd says:

When someone says “You know what…”, what you should know is that the person is about to say something you don’t want to know.

February 21, 2011 at 11:43 am
(8) Lee Woods says:

I hear it a lot, but I’m still not sure what it means: “…common knowledge.”

February 21, 2011 at 12:05 pm
(9) Jim McCullough says:

“Do me a favor.”

Usually means your about to be chastised by someone secure in the belief that they are one of your betters.

February 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm
(10) Helen Halmay says:

As a parent was about to spank a child they used to say: “This will hurt me more than it will you.” What?! Every child knew this was just balderdash! If the parent really meant that, they should have let the child spank them!

February 21, 2011 at 12:50 pm
(11) Dennis C During says:

With all due respect,” I believe that other users have missed at least one very common expression of this type. I don’t mean to insult anyone’s linguistic observation skills, I’m just saying.

February 21, 2011 at 1:10 pm
(12) Don Messerschmidt says:

Truth be known, “Truth be known” should be on the list, usually implying that while we may know something about something, here’s the ‘real’ story! (or at least another version of it) that – truth be known – you may have missed.

February 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm
(13) John Rule says:

How about: “Of course, I already knew this.” This means you just told the other party something they are not likely to admit came as news.

February 21, 2011 at 3:24 pm
(14) Darkenwulf says:

During the days of approved corporeal punishment, the authority figure would invariably say, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Some of them may have believed it themselves, however they didn’t the physical and mental stings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Yet another false and empty phrase.

February 21, 2011 at 4:42 pm
(15) francis says:

You may already know this, but Alice Miller wrote a book about child abuse entitled For Your Own Good. That’s why we beat our children, don’t ya know!

February 21, 2011 at 5:57 pm
(16) Doc says:

“Just between you and me . . . ” means the speaker is in the process of disseminating worldwide some dubious opinion or tidbit of gossip.

February 21, 2011 at 6:19 pm
(17) Clotilda says:

“Operate with complete transparency” means we’ve buried this scam so deep you’ll never catch us stealing from you.

February 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm
(18) J. F. Sebastian says:

“How are you?” usually means “Now that I’ve pretended to care about you, let’s talk about me.”

February 21, 2011 at 6:39 pm
(19) jean Andreacci says:

“I don’t mean any disrespect”…of course they do!
or you explain something to someone and they comment “right”.

February 22, 2011 at 2:42 am
(20) Darkenwulf says:

Here’s a brief comment from Ambrose Bierce and The Devil’s Dictionary – bless his cynical heart!
Apologize, v.i. To lay the foundation for a future offence.

February 22, 2011 at 11:04 am
(21) g says:

I’m not one to complain, but…. Get ready for anything from politics to health issuws.

February 22, 2011 at 12:25 pm
(22) turtlegarden says:

I find that whenever a person starts a conversation with “To make a long story short”, that I am in for a very long tale.

February 22, 2011 at 5:59 pm
(23) srawlins says:

“I was hoping I wouldn’t have to say this, but. . . .”

“I don’t want you to think I’m trying to tell you what to do, but. . . .”

My all-time favorite comment was one I heard forty years ago: “Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and yours stinks.”

February 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm
(24) Jon von Gunten says:

I disagree.

If you’re delivering a tough-love or socially difficult message, dropping out a truly caring preamble guarantees confrontation, arguments, and complete cessation of two-way communication toward a solution.

Are we allowed no graceful, “road-building” preamble before telling someone life’s tough messages like…?
“I saw your husband with a hooker.”
“You’re fired because you don’t give a damn.”
“You don’t know you have a drug problem.”
“Must you make every political discussion an argument?”
“Your kid is a bully and a terror.”
“People avoid you because of your insulting (left) (right)-wing diatribes.”

The difference lies in discerning who is delivering the message out of love, hoping for a beneficial outcome for you—versus who delivers them hoping to slam you to the ground and use that intimidation as a way to control you.

February 23, 2011 at 12:38 am
(25) Jo says:

“No offense, but . . ” (the newer version of “I don’t mean to be critical . . .”)

February 23, 2011 at 8:26 am
(26) Ann says:

“Tough-love” = “whenever people want to hurt others, and [or to] gratify themselves.”

February 23, 2011 at 11:52 pm
(27) Arthur says:

When any politician opens a speech with “My fellow Americans . . .,” what he’s really saying is “Little people, shut up and listen.”

February 23, 2011 at 11:59 pm
(28) Wally Bumsted says:

“Don’t quote me on this . . .” means “I’m talking out of my ass, and I don’t want to get blamed for spreading gossip”

February 27, 2011 at 12:54 am
(29) Denis Wright says:

When someone says, ‘i’m only human…..’ it probably means they’ve just committed an inhuman act.

February 28, 2011 at 5:06 am
(30) Miss Gloria says:

I think this post is really interesting.How about ‘If you must know’ said when the speaker thinks his audience must of necessity know.

March 1, 2011 at 3:47 am
(31) zmkc says:

‘With respect’

March 20, 2011 at 6:55 pm
(32) Olson Rogers says:

“I was Just thinking about calling you”. A meaningless Pharse.

November 3, 2011 at 7:28 pm
(33) KAT says:

You forgot…….” I’m only doing this because I’m your friend.” I don’t think I want any more friends.

January 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm
(34) Frank Cardone says:

As your Mother…

February 19, 2014 at 9:13 am
(35) Jim says:

…adopt “common sense” measures or pass “common sense” laws, means you’ll need to twist logic a bit and ignore some obvious facts in order to adopt my position on the topic.

When I hear the phrase “it’s common sense”, or some derivation, my immediate thought is, what comes next ain’t gonna work unless we suspend reality.

March 10, 2014 at 4:07 pm
(36) R says:

A sentence which starts off with the short about-to-be-differentiated part, with a “but” interposing – like most of those in your selection. My mother had a classic one which caused more mirth and less irritation than the more serious ones in this blog: “I don’t want to hurry you, but.” There was, in her case, never anything to follow the “but” but a full stop.

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