We all have a phrase that makes us rear up onto our hind legs. That utterance from others that probably means nothing to them, however it flicks a switch inside of you and lights a fuse that burns with passion. You already have yours bounding into your head as you read this. I can almost see the corners of your mouth moving to a smile. Yes, that’s the one. Here’s mine.
With All Due Respect.
“With all due respect” is that phrase for me. Whenever I hear it, like chalk squeaking on a blackboard or that noise that fingernails can make scraped against something, it gets me going. The phrase provokes the same reaction from me. I don’t say anything aloud. I never react publicly. I take a breath, bite my tongue, pause, reflect. You know, all the things that stop you flipping out.
However, my reaction is right there, anger boiling below the surface. So perhaps it’s time to examine that phrase further. And why I dislike it so much.
The Official Meaning of With All Due Respect.
The Cambridge Dictionary describes it thus:
“Used to express polite disagreement in a formal situation.”
That would be a factual, literal representation. I hear something completely different.
For me, the reaction is, “You actually mean you don’t give a shit, you’re going to go right ahead and do it anyway.”
For some reason, the phrase ‘with all due respect’ seems to mean the opposite in my ears whenever I hear it.
I am hearing, “Actually, I completely disregard your opinion. It has little to no value. I know I am right. I’m not even going to give you the time to explain. I’m saying this to be a smug, condescending git.”
A vaguely polite English Language way of saying, “Whatever dude”.
So, why is it a phrase that means the opposite of what you just said. Grammarist hits the nail on the head, exactly my thoughts. Sarcasm.
In 2008, the Oxford Dictionary compiled a list of the most irritating phrases and this one came fifth. It’s thin cloak of decency is stripped away.
Winding back a couple of centuries in the English language and you can see that, when we had a more formal way of conversing, the phrase With All Due Respect did indeed mean just that. In polite society, the phrase was used as the opening shot in a disagreement between friends and colleagues.
So perhaps sarcasm wasn’t quite so well developed then and the phrase had not been captured and re-purposed to quite the same degree as it is today.
However when I hear it at it’s most annoying, it isn’t being used with sarcasm. I can kind of forgive that ironic deployment, in the right circumstance. In it’s most truly annoying use, the offender is genuinely using it as part of their conversation weaponry. And the worst offenders don’t even realise they’re using it.
You see, they’re the dangerous ones.
I’ll leave you with quite probably the ultimate misuse of With All Due Respect. In Talledega Nights – The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell deploys it with masterful skill and absolutely nails it:
“With all due respect, I had no idea you’re gotten experimental surgery and had your balls removed.”
“What did you say?”
“All I said was With All Due Respect .”
“That doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you like to me.”
“Sure it does. It’s in the Geneva Convention”
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