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A little while ago someone wrote to me, in a not-too-friendly internet exchange, "take care, man". I interpreted that as a threat, but now I realize that Americans often use this expression "take care" in a very friendly, benevolent way when leaving each other. So my two related questions are:

  1. Considering this widespread usage, is it still possible (in the US) to use that expression in a threatening way?
  2. If you wanted to threaten someone (!) what would you say? I'm thinking of some scenario in a film where a character approached by some suspicious guy would want to say "be careful [ I'm armed]". Is "be careful" right? Is some other expression more adequate?
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I'm my life I have never seen "take care" used as a threat. –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Aug 19 '11 at 16:48
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Perhaps the potentially threatening equivalent of "take care" / "be careful" you're looking for is "beware". (Or "watch out", "you better watch out", etc. Of course, all of these are also and more often used non-threateningly.) –  ShreevatsaR Aug 19 '11 at 17:00
    
"beware","watch out", "you better watch out": excellent suggestions, ShreevatsaR. Won't you post them as answers, so that I can upvote you? –  Georges Elencwajg Aug 19 '11 at 17:18
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You can turn any comment of well-wishing, including "take care", into a threat just by whispering it. qwantz.com/index.php?comic=296 –  Jeremy Aug 19 '11 at 17:48
    
+1, Jeremy: very appropriate and very funny. –  Georges Elencwajg Aug 19 '11 at 17:57
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

"Take care" is almost always used in a friendly way, or when genuinely warning somebody to be careful. It could conceivably be used as a threat, but the tone of the speaker's voice (or the context of the situation) would have to be very clear for it to be interpreted this way; it's more likely that in such a situation where you wished to issue a thinly-veiled threat, you'd instead use a more sinister phrase like "watch your back", or "don't get hurt".

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There is a stereotypical threat you might see in a gangster movie where an obvious bad guy says to a small business owner, "Nice place ya got here. Be a real shame if anything were to happen to it. Real shame." This is supposed to be intepreted as a threat even though the literal (word by word) meaning is a compliment. Only in a construct like that could "take care" be a threat. In regular usage it doesn't even mean "be careful" or "protect yourself", it means "well I guess we are finished talking now."

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I have never seen "take care" used where the implied intent is of a threatening nature.

It can be used as a warning: "Take care when you meet with Georges... I think he may want to hurt you."

Generally speaking, "take care" is used (at least by us Americans) as a farewell, hoping nothing bad befalls the person it is said towards.

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Context and tone of voice can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

If you just had a party at your house and everyone is laughing and in a good mood and as a guest is leaving he says, "Well, see you at work next week. Take care.", that would be interpreted as a pleasant farewell.

But if you are in an argument with someone and in an angry tone of voice he says, "You try to pull one like that on me again and ... well, you'd better just take care, mister.", that would clearly be a threat.

I can't at the moment recall ever hearing someone use "take care" as a threat, but in a context like I just gave it would be readily understood.

If I wanted to threaten someone? That would depend a lot on the context. I recall threatening someone once by taking out a piece of paper and a pen and in a very polite tone asking, "So what is your name? I'd like to get the name right for the lawsuit." Threats can range from a very blunt and literal, "If you don't give me what I want I'm going to punch you in the face" to very subtle comments, like Kate Gregory's example, "It would be a real shame if something happened to you". I've seen plenty of movies where the villain threatens someone by saying, "You have an adorable little girl there", and it's clear that that's all he needs to say to make his point.

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Sorry to tell you, but when a woman tells a guy "take care" in a message, it's the big kiss off.

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protected by RegDwigнt Oct 5 '12 at 0:00

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