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September 18 Time magazine’s article titled “How Mitt Romney’s Luck Ran Out” introduced GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s observation covertly recorded at a Florida fundraiser to the effect that:

... the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income taxes will never vote for him because they "believe they are victims" entitled to endless government support and will never "take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

It is followed by this sentence:

Not to generalize or anything. This, just days after Romney’s rash statement late on the night of Sept. 11 suggesting that the Obama Administration sympathized with the violent mobs in Cairo and Benghazi.

What does “Not to generalize or anything” mean? Doesn’t “Not to generalize” suffice? Is “or anything” necessary? Is this a common idiomatic phrase, or parenthesis?

In passing, I don’t find a verb that explains what “This” that follows “Not to generalize or anything” in the above excerpt. What is the predicate of “This”?

share|improve this question
Not to be rude or anything, but I don't think "Not to generalize or anything." can properly be seen as a valid "sentence", so it's clunky writing to start with. But I imagine the word "This" simply refers to Romney's unguarded comments on the 47% of Americans whose votes he will never get. Especially not after appearing to be dismissive of them anyway. Parse it as "This [gaffe] comes just days after Romney's [previous gaffe]" – FumbleFingers Sep 19 '12 at 0:13
Sorry, but I think it's just Too Localised. This just weeks after I voted to close another of your questions for the same reason. It's an unusual stylised form that you're more likely to hear from an enthusiastic sports commentator on the TV/radio than to see in formal writing. Essentially it's a way of adding "immediacy" to the delivery, where "this" means "this [thing which I'm talking about now] should be considered in the context of [something else]". – FumbleFingers Sep 19 '12 at 0:25
@FumbleFingers. I always appreciate your valuable answers and comments. The big trouble for non-native speakers like me is that we cannot tell whether the particular expression is well-received expression that I can introduce in my conversation and writing (to make it look more ‘native-English-like-style’), or not, because dictionaries don’t teach it. English language site is the only source I can resort to in getting clue and guidance for it. Even if it looks too localized, it’s important for me to know that it’s too localized or unusual expression for a non-native English speaker to adopt. – Yoichi Oishi Sep 19 '12 at 1:08
Making "Not to generalize or anything" a stand-alone sentence is typical of people who write like they talk, a popular strategy in the 1970s to help students with writer's block overcome it. But the rest of the strategy was to edit the writing to make it fluent and readable. Imitate good writers, not hack writers. How can you tell the difference? Ask someone whose judgments about English writing you can trust. They probably don't write for Time or People, most local newspapers, or Internet blogs. Popular culture is always 下級の. – user21497 Sep 19 '12 at 2:21
@FumbleFingers: I strongly disagree. Explaining idiomatic phrases that one could reasonable come across in fairly common publications is 100 % on topic and not "too localised". Further I should like to add that I, like everyone else here, think Yoichi's questions are always great and probably helpful to other people. – Cerberus Sep 20 '12 at 3:31
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Normally, not to x or anything is followed by a but, like this:

Not to generalise, but women often spend too much on shoes they never wear.

Here, it is short for [I do/did] not [mean] to generalise, but... It is a caveat, and a warning that what you are about to do (or have just done) may be interpreted in a bad way.

In casual speech, or anything is often tacked on to make the generalisation seem less explicit, less important, as in: "I may be generalising here, or I may be doing something else—it doesn't matter anyway—, but...".

Using not to x or anything without a following but looks like sloppy writing to me for a serious article, which is probably part of the reason why it confused you: the generalising statement ought to follow, explaining the caveat—but no such statement follows here, at least not immediately. It is not a grave sin, but it's not exactly eloquent here. Most writers would only use that in a very casual context.

Based on the rest of the article, I believe the generalisation is supposed to be the writer's theory that "[m]ore recently, however, Romney’s luck has turned", as mentioned at the start of the paragraph. The statement by Romney about the 47 % is supposed to be an example supporting the theory. But at the same time it is probably a sarcastic quip referring to Romney's own generalisations in these quotations.

The this that comes immediately after is unrelated to the not to generalise: it refers to the 47 % statement, the example supporting the theory. It is short for something like this [was/happened], or [and notice how] this [was]. It is meant to make clear that there is a connection between the previous example and what follows, Romney's statement about Obama.

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"I believe the generalisation is the writer's theory..." - I disagree. Not to generalize or anything is surely a sarcastic quip referring to what Romney was just quoted as saying, where he generalized about 47% of Americans. – Jez Sep 19 '12 at 7:18
@YoichiOichi This sentence "This, just days after Romney’s rash statement late on the night of Sept. 11 suggesting that the Obama Administration sympathized with the violent mobs in Cairo and Benghazi." is typical of contemporary academic prose. To make it a grammatical sentence, "suggesting" has to be changed to "suggested" or "suggests". You're right about the lack of a predicate: there's no main verb, only a gerund ("suggesting") and a subordinate verb, "sympathized". As I said above: "hack writer who writes like he talks" -- and he doesn't talk well. – user21497 Sep 19 '12 at 10:37
@YoichiOishi: Yes, "this" lacks a main verb. That's why I suggested that you should "was" or "happened": this happened just days after Romney’s rash statement... – Cerberus Sep 19 '12 at 13:18
I think @cerberus has explained the nuances in tone very well here. I find myself learning an awful lot about the language just by reading yoichi-oishi's questions! – Marc Cenedella Sep 19 '12 at 19:41
@marccenedella: Thanks! I like Yoichi's questions too, and I think Fumble Fingers is wrong in his comments above. – Cerberus Sep 20 '12 at 3:29

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