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To be honest with you, ...
Is it one example of saying the opposite ?
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2013/03/18
6:04am
Robert
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Am I wrong to feel uncomfortable when someone says   ‘To be honest with you, …   ‘  ? 

And this won’t help at all,   ‘To be perfectly honest, … ‘

It’s not like the person has been dishonest all this time, but I can’t help that my gut automatically downgrades him by one peg.
2013/03/18
8:56am
Glenn
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I don’t think you are wrong. It makes my spidey sense tingle when I hear it. I don’t necessarily conclude that what follows is less true, but it does cast a shadow of doubt over everything the person has said, especially the statements that came BEFORE the speaker was being (perfectly) honest with me.

Still, the phrase does serve an honest function. A lot of what we say is a simplification of reality. Even with the best of intentions we leave off details that we deem to be irrelevant or less relevant to the point at hand. “To be (perfectly) honest” can be a useful phrase to employ to introduce a more nuanced discussion of something that was previously simplified. It acknowledges in advance that what is to follow might in some ways contradict previous implications and, thus, avoids some confusion over the coming contradictions. It informs the audience to give priority to the new statements over the more simplified ones that came before.

It may not specifically reflect intentional dishonesty.

But I’d still be a bit wary.

2013/03/18
8:59am
Dick
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There are others. “To tell the truth”, “Frankly” to name two. These are idioms which really have nothing to do with truth or honesty. It is a way of saying, “What I have been saying has had somewhat of an agenda and has been scripted, if only in my mind.  But I am going to leave that agenda and tell you things that I was planning to keep from you.”

If you keep this in mind when listening to people speak you will see that most people use it properly, but some insert it inappropriately.  I think these people are just looking for something to say and don’t realize that this makes no sense.

In either group, honesty has nothing to do with what they are saying. Personally, I try to avoid using this phrase because it is overused and misused.

Glenn posted while I was writing this and I completely concur. He gave a more complete explanation.

2013/03/18
2:31pm
Ron Draney
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Mort Sahl used to pause before one particular anecdote in his act to say “Everything I’m telling you is true, but this is actual”.

If I recall correctly, he credited the turn of phrase to Lenny Bruce.

2013/03/18
2:56pm
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Glenn said

Still, the phrase does serve an honest function. A lot of what we say is a simplification of reality. Even with the best of intentions we leave off details that we deem to be irrelevant or less relevant to the point at hand. “To be (perfectly) honest” can be a useful phrase to employ to introduce a more nuanced discussion of something that was previously simplified. It acknowledges in advance that what is to follow might in some ways contradict previous implications and, thus, avoids some confusion over the coming contradictions.

Glenn,

The process you describe here is related to a description of my profession I once heard (and accepted), “Education is the art of telling progressively smaller lies.” Maybe the reason I have accepted it is because the truth of physics is so much more complicated than the classical approximations which work so well.

Emmett

2013/03/18
3:24pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Dick said: There are others. “To tell the truth”, “Frankly” to name two.

And to that list I would add “Actually…” and “More accurately…” which I also hear often, and they send up the same red flags.

Emmett said: Education is the art of telling progressively smaller lies.

That is so true, but an online search could not find that quote attributed to anyone. Please cite the source if you know it. I also taught physics, and found myself doing exactly that over the course of the year. I often prefaced a later “lie” with “Remember last semester when I said X? Well, I lied to you. At this point you’re ready for Y.” That approach always got the students’ attention.

Very much like the elementary school lie “In this country anyone can grow up to become president.” Only later do people learn about parties, PACS, old-boy networks, and the realities of race, gender, and age bias. Or for that matter, “Magellan proved the Earth was round.” Or “Columbus discovered America.”

2013/03/18
7:25pm
Robert
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The president one though —  it’s  as proven as anything can be, no?

2013/03/19
12:08am
New River, AZ, USA
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Sure, but it took like 44 tries to get there. So maybe that’s not a lie anymore, but it was for 2 centuries.

 

2013/03/19
4:33am
tromboniator
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“Anyone”? I don’t think so, even granting that A) “anyone” is limited to those who might reasonably be deemed qualified; and B) some not included in A have actually become president or come remarkably close.

I think that “to be honest with you,” et al, can more positively mean “I’m not going to insult you by trying to spare your feelings.”

2013/03/19
2:31pm
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Heimhenge said

Please cite the source if you know it.

I do not have a source other than a friend told me. :-)

2013/03/19
2:47pm
New River, AZ, USA
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Damn, that’s too bad. It’s an excellent quote that any teacher would resonate with. I was considering adding it to my website, but wanted to properly attribute it. As I said, I could not find it online, so “your friend” must also be a teacher or educational guru. I doubt he/she is a plagiarist. Thanks for responding to my question.

 

2013/03/20
3:09am
Raffee
Iran
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I think there is no reason for doubting the person saying, “to be honest with you”. Because as far as I can notice people usually use it when they are in a slightly uncomfortable situation, and having a conflict how to express themselves. Then, they decide to ‘be honest’ and wear their heart on their sleeve. So, that expression refers to that situation only.

2013/03/20
10:28am
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Heimhenge said

Damn, that’s too bad. It’s an excellent quote that any teacher would resonate with. I was considering adding it to my website, but wanted to properly attribute it. As I said, I could not find it online, so “your friend” must also be a teacher or educational guru. I doubt he/she is a plagiarist. Thanks for responding to my question.

 

I think you have done enough research that it is safe to attribute it to Anonymous.

2013/03/20
10:44am
Robert
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Rafee, that will be true in some some contexts.  The person and their motivation in that context will make all the difference.    A rough gradation might be like this:

Spouse, confidant
Teacher
Healthcare personnel
Casual friend
Accountant
Insurance agent
Store clerk
Real estate agent
Financial advisor
Auto sales person
Politician (except this would sound like a weak attempt at humor)

 

2013/03/21
4:00am
Raffee
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Actually what I was trying to say was not that what you said could not be the case, but that the experiences I’ve had with the expression have all been like what I described. (And by ‘experience’ I mean both using it and hear it used)

2013/05/10
6:43am
AnMa
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When I have used “To be honest,” “To be perfectly honest,” “Frankly,” “To tell the truth” or similar lead-ins, it means something like this …

“What I say next might hurt your feelings or be rude, and so I hesitated to say it, but I have decided that I need to go ahead and tell you …”

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