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I've come to feel that the phrase "of course" is just a warning that--perk up!--something is NOT "of course." Consider these examples:

  • NY Times: "There is of course a difference between speculative bubbles caused by greed and psychological ones born of fear."

  • NY Times: “Corporations are people, my friend,” Mr. Romney responded, as the hecklers shouted back, “No, they’re not!” “Of course they are,” Mr. Romney said, chuckling slightly.

I'm afraid that in neither of those cases is it obvious to me where truth resides. "Obviously" is another warning flag to me that something is NOT obvious. Does anybody feel the same way?

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You're thinking that a speculative bubble caused by greed might well be the same as a psychological bubble caused by fear? They sound to me as different. In the second case, Romney was flat out contradicting the shouter, and trying to use of course to imply that any normal person would naturally see that. So the latter usage might be seen as trying to suppress consideration of any alternative view. The first usage doesn't seem like that. –  mgkrebbs Aug 13 '11 at 6:45
    
Well said mgkrebbs and maybe I think too much but I can kinda imagine greed being a species of fear, so it wasn't "of course" to me. –  Tom Aug 13 '11 at 15:45
    
Related: english.stackexchange.com/q/30135/8019 –  TimLymington Sep 12 '11 at 13:03
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2 Answers 2

Saying "of course" or "obviously" tends to mean 'unspoken assumptions' and 'there may be people who do not recognize what is going on'. They can also be used to try to dupe (I almost said 'coerce', but that's a bit too strong) someone into agreeing with a position which they do not really agree with, by trying to make it seem that the alternative position is reasonable because the unstated assumptions are disguised by plausible-seeming statements.

Of course, they ('of course' and 'obviously') are not always weasel words; but whenever they are used, it is obviously a good idea to wake up and work out what it is that is supposed to be obvious. In technical matters, they can be used neutrally. In matters less cut and dried, such as politics, there is more need for caution.

Another related 'wake-up call' is "it goes without saying" or variants on the theme; if it needed to be said, it does not actually 'go without being said'. Only if it was actually unsaid might it 'go without saying'.

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"Needless to say, so I won't say it" –  Richard Haven Oct 31 '12 at 17:30
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I get your point, but I don't think that's always the case.

That said, it does seem to be true in the examples you cite. In the first example, I feel like it's being used to make an opinion seem factual. In the latter case, I'd argue Mr. Romney is being condescending. I feel like he should be patting his hecklers on the head.

But I think that it is still used to be able to say obvious things that need being pointed out to antecede further statements.

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