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"I don't mean to change the subject, but..." but you are changing the subject.

"I don't mean to interrupt, but..." but you are interrupting.

Is there a name for these type of "polite" phrases?

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Sloppy (choice of expression)? – FumbleFingers Aug 31 '11 at 18:09
up vote 8 down vote accepted

It is a fairly well known figure of speech:


or paralipsis, meaning to mention something by saying you're not going to mention it.

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I'm not sure that's correct, insofar as paralipsis is the act of stating something by claiming that it should not be discussed, as in "I do not wish to raise the issue of his fondness for drink." When one says "I don't mean to interrupt," one is not claiming the subject that causes him to interrupt should not be discussed, but rather that it is important enough to overcome his desire not to interrupt. – jela Aug 31 '11 at 19:47
I think there's a close reading of the word that is very specific and so not -exactly- what the OP desires. But 1) there are no other concepts in the 'figure' of speech' catalog that are closer to this specific instance, and 2) apophasis can be taken in the looser less specific meaning of 'explicitly denying the contents of what you're about to say' "With all due respect, ...". "Someone who needs no introduction,...", etc. – Mitch Aug 31 '11 at 19:58

This could be seen as a technique of politeness, in which the person hedges around his real intention:

Techniques to show politeness

Expressing uncertainty and ambiguity through hedging and indirectness.

It could also be argued as "Polite lying", but I don't really think this is a case of polite lying, although it is a lie, and it is polite.

Or we could just be general, and call it "Negative Politeness", in which the person is being polite via making a request less infringing.

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