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The initialism1 IMHO stands for "in my humble opinion". It's commonly used in text-based communication (chat clients, forums, popular Q&A platforms). Here's an example:

Person A: What do you think about implementing this new feature request?

Person B: The cost for that change outweighs the relatively minor benefit IMHO.

I feel that:

  • On one hand, mentioning one's own humility seems a bit...ironic (or possibly even sarcastic), which is rude.
  • On the other hand, it's possible that, for most people, this reads the same as "IMO" (in my opinion) - which sounds more neutral, and thus is not rude.

Is "IMHO" a rude thing to say (or type)? Why or why not?

I'd appreciate answers with facts, references, or significant personal experiences if possible (as opposed to just opinions), as I realize this is somewhat subjective.

1: I just learned this word today!

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I've occasionally seen IMNSHO ("not so") from people who acknowledge this quandry. As for your question, I think context is going to be the driver; I've seen clearly-sincere and clearly-pompous IMHOs. –  Monica Cellio Feb 2 '12 at 15:39
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@MonicaCellio Ah, I haven't seen "IMNSHO" in a while, I forgot about that. Good point, I imagine the context could be a big part of it (although it always reads about the same to me, but that's just my (humble?) opinion =P) –  jadarnel27 Feb 2 '12 at 15:42
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I'm not sure what facts or references one could give on such a question. It's not obviously rude, like "You just think that because you're a moron" would be obviously rude. So it depends on the writer's intent and the context. I've often seen people write IMHO in what is pretty clearly an attempt to soften a statement of disagreement. It certainly could be used sarcastically. But that's true of any polite statement. Like, "I'm sorry" is generally a very polite thing to say. But "I'm sorry if you couldn't understand such simple instructions!" is pretty clearly not. –  Jay Feb 2 '12 at 16:09
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If someone accuses you of rudeness, tell them you meant "in my honest opinion". –  GEdgar Feb 2 '12 at 16:10
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I always thought it meant "in my honest opinion" - in fact I don't even really remember ever seeing the "humble" interpretation before now. –  David Z Feb 2 '12 at 23:44

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I'd say that, unless other nearby content points to definite sarcasm, the phrase "in my humble opinion" should generally be taken as being sincere.

The definition of humble includes an example of the phrase as being "courteously respectful". There's a latin phrase, "ut humiliter opinor", which translates as "in my humble opinion", which would indicate that the phrase is quite old and has been used for a long time (though I haven't researched this, it could well be pseudo-Latin for all I know, like "non illegitimi carborundum" ;-) ).

The phrase is used in modern writing; for instance, there's a quote by Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books that goes something like “Words are, in my humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.” (I suppose one could argue that Dumbledore has little to be humble about, but I'd certainly interpret this instance as being sincere.) It might be interesting if anyone knows of examples in "older" literature.

Having said that, in its abbreviated form, "IMHO" or "imho" as used in informal writing, emails, social media, etc., there may well be a higher percentage of sarcastic usage, but again I think this would largely depend on the context and one should assume sincerity unless there are other indicators of sarcasm.

I would suggest (though some may well disagree) that its usage in informal writing is quite similar to the phrase "my two cents", i.e. saying "here's my opinion, take it for what it's worth or feel free to ignore it". (Though this phrase always strikes me as being ironic because, in Australia, we round money to the nearest five cents, so two cents are essentially "worthless".)

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Very nice answer, thank you! –  jadarnel27 Feb 3 '12 at 14:10

There is no global answer; whether "IMHO" is sincere, rude, actually humble, or something else depends entirely on context. In your example an opinion was solicited, so I would take the response at face value. Other times it can be used in a more-forceful way, as in:

Person A: This new feature sounds interesting.

Person B: That feature would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to our product, our customers, and our bottom line. Only a moron would seriously suggest doing that! IMHO, of course.

I haven't researched this, but I remember seeing IMHO earlier than IMO, so it is possible that the "H" dropped out when people realized that it usually doesn't add anything. I have also seen IMNSHO ("not so") as a direct reaction to the "IMHO" formation.

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So basically someone thought "Hey, for God's sake - I am not humble!". –  Camilo Martin Feb 2 '12 at 23:10
    
Thanks for posting this @Monica =) –  jadarnel27 Feb 3 '12 at 14:11

Rolling Stone had no problem with the venerable Peter Travers using IMHO in his summary when he named The Social Network the best movie of 2010:

What director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin are doing in this movie, which IMHO surpasses all other movies this year, is using Facebook to hold up a mirror to the way we live now.

The Macmillan Dictionary's definition says:

IMHO, abbr : in my humble opinion: used, often humorously, in e-mails and text messages for giving your opinion

Nothing wrong with a little humor, IMHO.

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"Nothing wrong with a little humor, IMHO" - I see what you did there =) Thanks! –  jadarnel27 Feb 3 '12 at 14:11

There are subtle differeces between IMO and IMHO. IMO is simply a way of expressing an opinion. "This is what I think about the topic". IMHO normally has some sincerity in the humility: "This is what I think about the topic, but I am not an expert". It is often used also to mean "This is what I think, please don't flame me if you disagree".

IMNSHO - or even, as I have seen it, IMNAAHO (not at all), is more often used sarcastically, implying "This is what I think about it, so like it or sod off" - probably ruder than the other versions.

Of course, the circles I move in virtually may be more refined than others. Some people - especially but not exclusively the young - ignore the subtlety of the differences.

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IMHO (and similar abbreviations) is in common use with people now at or under the age of 30. If this is your "audience," I see no problem with using it.

The problem arises if your audience is my age (early 50s) or older. Then the use of such abbreviations is likely to confuse people. So if you are addressing people mostly your parents' age, it's probably best not to use them.

(The 40s is a transition group, some of them are "hip" to this terminology and some aren't.)

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And some of those 40s/early-50s folks were using these terms in college. They don't all get it from their kids. :-) –  Monica Cellio Feb 3 '12 at 15:33

Depends on context

IMHO can be used to indicate self-deprecation either sincerely (rarely) or as a combination of sincerity and a joke - for example, an expert on music saying 'IMHO' in reference to a judgement on a musical matter to an audience of non-experts. Since he is clearly an expert, it is amusing that his opinion is humble - it's self-deprecating humour, but also is an attempt to indicate a lack of pride or arrogance, to show humility, and to include the audience.

As such, it is or was a commonly used element of rhetoric, often in written publication.

It's dropped in usage in a professional context, but made the jump to the internet.

In a non-professional context, it's used less expertly to defer responsibility for a statement. i.e. 'IMHO, blah is a bad band, but feel free to disagree'. It removes the possibility of an argument while still allowing the user to express their opinion. Often it is used in situations where the user feels there may be some tension or possibility of an argument - sometimes it is used to paint the user in a good light in a disagreement, as if they are being humble and the person they are disagreeing with isn't, then that person is in the wrong.

In some online communities, 'IMHO' is treated as a red flag for this exact reason.

It's mostly common in older users - i've never seen someone below the age of 25 use it, and it's considered nonpolite or arrogant to use 'IMHO' or 'IMO' in groups of younger people I speak with.

This is largely the Australian and American usages that i've seen - I can't really speak for other English speaking areas as I don't read enough publications or interact with enough native speakers.

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