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Whenever I use the phrase "do you mean to say", I notice that the word "mean" has a variety of negative connotations (cruelty, harshness, etc.) Is there any alternative for this phrase that doesn't have such unpleasant connotations? ("Do you mean to say this" sounds very similar to "what you said was mean", despite having a completely different meaning - that's why I'm concerned about the connotation.)

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closed as not a real question by FumbleFingers, MετάEd, Carlo_R., Matt Эллен, tchrist Nov 22 '12 at 14:16

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The verb "mean" has no such unpleasant connotation of cruelty, and would not by any reader or hearer be taken to have anything to do with the adjective "mean" or the adverb "meanly". –  StoneyB Nov 21 '12 at 23:02
    
I think this is Too Localised. I mean to say - how many people really think I'm being mean, just because I try to say what I mean? –  FumbleFingers Nov 21 '12 at 23:11
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...further to which, I would just add that for me at least, saying to someone "Are you trying to say [whatever]?" definitely does have negative overtones, in that it implicitly accuses the other person of being inarticulate. –  FumbleFingers Nov 21 '12 at 23:13
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Rhyme has no predictable connotation, though a writer/speaker may exploit rhyme to impose a connotation. The reason mean,adj. and mean,vb. don't cross-connote is that their contexts don't overlap, precisely because they play different syntactic roles. –  StoneyB Nov 22 '12 at 0:01
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@Anderson Green: You'd have problems with happy and unhappy, then. I'm sure that homographs and homophones do intrude into our perception and have some effect on our 'feel' for a word. The word for that relative of the cormorant, the shag, for instance, still causes me unwarranted trouble. We have to draw the line somewhere, though, and not be too precious, mollycoddling ourselves or others. Oh, and mean (= signify), mean (= stingy or cruel) and mean (= a type of average) are three different words. –  Edwin Ashworth Nov 22 '12 at 0:04
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4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

Though I can't imagine someone (unless it's a non-native audience) taking "mean" in the wrong sense, here are a couple other ways to ask the same question:

  • Is your intention to say (x)?

  • What I'm hearing you say is (x)

  • I'm unclear on your meaning (hopefully meaning is not misconstrued as "mean")

  • Can you clarify that please?
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Whenever I hear someone say "Did you mean to say that?", it reminds me of the sentence "Why are you so mean?" or "What you said was really mean." I know that the meanings are completely different, but they still sound similar. –  Anderson Green Nov 21 '12 at 23:34
    
@AndersonGreen, that's the beauty of language, there is usually another way to say something and you can just choose not to use a certain word or expression without apologizing to anyone for your reasons! :-) –  Kristina Lopez Nov 21 '12 at 23:38
    
Still, this question got downvoted for some reason - does that mean that this question isn't even worthy of discussion? –  Anderson Green Nov 21 '12 at 23:52
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@AndersonGreen: I can imagine all sorts of things that the name Winnie the Pooh reminds you of :D –  Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 22 '12 at 0:24
    
@AndersonGreen, Actually, this is meant to be a question and answer site, not a discussion site - but as you can see by the comments - discussions do occur. As for the downvote, ideally, downvoters should acknowledge the reason for the downvote. –  Kristina Lopez Nov 22 '12 at 0:29
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Sorry, but "Do you mean to say this?" doesn't sound at all similar to "Do you say this meanly?". Although a few of the words are the same, the ideas expressed are as distant as Durban and Detroit.

"Do you mean to say this?" is always a negative statement because it implies one of two possibilities: (1) What you said wasn't clear enough for me to understand. Did you really want to say "ABC" instead of "XYZ"? or (2) I'm sorry, but I'm not very good at understanding what other people say unless it's said at my level. Did you really want to say "ABC" instead of "XYZ"?

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+ 0.98 Detroit isn't nearly so distant as Durban where I'm sitting. –  StoneyB Nov 21 '12 at 23:09
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@StoneyB: "Approximate distance as the crow flies in miles from Detroit United States to Durban South Africa is 8747 miles or 14073.92 Kilometers" & "The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 kilometers)." "Approximate distance as the crow flies in miles from Detroit United States to Taipei Taiwan is 7532 miles or 12118.99 Kilometers" & "Approximate distance as the crow flies in miles from Durban to Taipei Taiwan is 7064.3 miles or 11376.3 Kilometers." –  user21497 Nov 21 '12 at 23:25
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I meant that this sounds very odd to me. Perhaps I'm dating myself, or showing myself provincial, or simply ignorant, but "distant" without "from" to me means "distant from here"; I'd write "as far apart as D & D" or "as distant from each other as D from D". –  StoneyB Nov 21 '12 at 23:50
    
@StoneyB: O, IC. I'll invoke Chomsky: My S is naturally ambiguous because it's an elision of one of these deep structures: "as distant from me as are Durban and Detroit" & "as distant from each other as are Durban and Detroit". That's why he invented trace theory. I'm 5 years your senior, so you're not dating yourself. You're hardly provincial or ignorant & prove yourself to be anything but in all of your answers & comments. I have to take the blame for your misunderstanding. That's what I do when journal reviewers complain about my English: I wasn't clear enough. Sorry about that. :-) –  user21497 Nov 22 '12 at 2:27
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What is the context of the situation?

For me, it would mean( here: the word used as a verb ) either that 1) you want to make sure that someone you are/were talking to meant something you thought about or 2) you want to correct someone's incorrect use of phrase/word etc.

1)

A: I think she is grumpy.
B: Do you mean that she complains a lot today?

2)

A: Could I have expresso, please?
B: Do you mean ESpresso?

The second situation may be read as you are being rude, as people simply do not like to be corrected by others. Otherwise it shouldn't have negative connotations.

And of course, a second answer to your question may be that you confuse a verb : to mean - to express or represent something such as an idea, thought, or fact ( Cambridge Dictionary ) and a rather colloquial use of an adjective mean example: You are mean to me! which can be interpreted as someone is being not nice/rude/cruel to the other person. Then, the connotation with the ADJECTIVE - mean - would be negative.

I hope I did help.

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Yesterday, I had just answered a question about dysphemistic euphemism - the use of gentle phrases pejoratively due to the deteriorated effects of the euphemism.

In this case, we are looking at a similar effect - aggressive amelioration.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change

Normally, we would use ameliorative phrases and words to be polite. e.g. the use of the word please.

However, due to the authoritarian projection of such ameliorative expressions, they have taken on an aggressive impression:

  • Can you please sit down?!
  • With all due respect, you have no authority here.
  • Do you mean to say our corporation would survive without positive revenue?
  • I would prefer that you sat down.
  • Would you mind taking your shoes off?

One common step to sustain the ameliorative effect of a phrase is the use of subjunctive (which is effective mostly only on native speakers, who normally understand the etiquette of using the subjunctive). Otherwise, using the past tense rather than the present tense:

  • Could you take your shoes off at the mud-room before entering the living room?

    The subjunctive denotes possibility rather than affirmative action - meaning that the host of the home gives you a choice to remove your shoes, hoping that you would reciprocate his/her politeness.

  • Did you mean to say that our company could survive without positive revenue?

    Meaning, I might have heard it wrongly a moment ago, but could you confirm that it is you opinion (giving the other party a wider leeway to affirm the opposite).

The word please has taken on a rather aggressive ameliorative effect lately and frequently should not even be included if a statement is meant to be sincerely ameliorative.

Could you please take your shoes off?!

vs

Could you take your shoes off?

The placing of the word please affects the mood

  • Please, could you take your shoes off? /* imo, polite authoritative */
  • Could you please take your shoes off? /* imo, aggressive authoritative */
  • Could you take your shoes off, please? /* imo, pleading */

Do you mean to say taking a left would lead us to the highway?

vs

  • Did you say that taking a left would lead us to the highway?
  • Would you say that taking a left would lead us to the highway?
  • Let us presume that we took a left. Would you confirm again that would lead us to the highway?
  • I agree that taking a left leads us to the highway. Please let me know if I am wrong.
  • I don't quite agree that taking a left would lead us to the highway.
  • I am still not convinced that taking a left would lead us to the highway.
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