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We use "in my humble opinion" to express humility. But I even see usage of "in your humble opinion" to ask for others' opinions. What does it mean?

I see the usage in the original message here, considering the person being asked is a great scientist in the field.

I Googled the phrase, failing to find a definition as an idiom.

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In my humble opinion, any humble opinion is anything but humble. –  Andrew Leach Mar 7 '13 at 11:44
    
Welcome to English Language & Usage. It's difficult to see what's being asked here. What exactly perplexes you about the phrase, where are you seeing it used (provide an example with context or give a link), and what research did you do before asking here? Please edit the question. –  MετάEd Mar 7 '13 at 12:21
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We use "in my humble opinion" to express humility... Maybe the phrase started that way, but, even if it did, it's become so trite that I don't think we use those words to express humility any more, despite what the online sources might say. The word "humble" in this context looks especially ironic when used as an abbreviation at the outset of a rant. Even when it's used politely, though, a more accurate description of the meaning of IMHO might be "although that's just my own opinion." –  J.R. Mar 7 '13 at 15:49
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I'm sure it's been used, as your link demonstrates, but to me, "in your humble opinion", is either ironic or a bit disrespectful in that it is implying that you need to explicitly request that the other person give you their "humble" opinion (as opposed to what, their conceited opinion?) If you're asking for an opinion, you say, "May I have your opinion?" If you're disagreeing with someone, you say, "That's your opinion!" Hope this helps! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Mar 7 '13 at 18:51
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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Following on from my comment and Bill's answer, it's worth noting that the quote is actually (with my emphasis)

In your most humble opinion, what's the difference between...?

If I were to say "In my humble opinion...", then my opinion is not really humbly expressed at all. I think it's a good opinion, and I'm not afraid to express it.

It's a set phrase, a meme. It's deliberate sarcasm.

Calling someone else's opinion "humble" is slightly ambiguous: it could be using the same idiom where their opinion is good and they should not be afraid to express it (inviting them to say "In my humble opinion" with the memetic meaning); or it could indicate that you think their opinion really is humble.

However, emphasising the judgement with most puts the phrase firmly into the category of "not humble at all", especially in a slightly colloquial environment of email in an expert group.

That said, because of the ambiguity inherent in calling someone else's opinion "humble", doing that is definitely not to be recommended unless you are absolutely certain of your audience.

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Using "in your humble opinion" to ask for the opinions of others is going to be considered sarcastic, ironic, patronizing, or condescending. Devaluing your opinion by calling it humble is, as Andrew Leach points out, anything but a true expression of humility. It does serve the purpose of suggesting that you actually might not be arrogant, but it's only a suggestion, not a promise or a guarantee.

However, calling someone else's opinion humble is insulting. In Japanese and Chinese you'd have to elevate the status of the other guy's opinion, especially if you've asked him or her for it.

In English, you say simply "In your opinion,...?" If you want to be polite, you can say "In your expert opinion,...?", and you might be able to get away with "In your (highly) esteemed opinion,...?", but only if your tone of voice is sincere and not at all mocking.

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