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I’ve seen the phrase “No offense taken” in the answers to the comments in EL&U site. None of online Cambridge, Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionary registers this usage, nor does Google Ngram.

However, I was able to find the definitions of both “No offense taken / meant” as “I am not offended [by what you said] / I did not mean to offend you,” in idioms.thefreedictionary.com and www.urbandictionary.com

Since what time around did these expressions come into currency? Are they a polite way of excusing? Can I use “No offense meant (taken)” in both colloquial conversation and formal meeting, for instance with the client advertiser in opposing their idea?

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Everything I know about how the Japanese handle potentially "delicate" personal interactions suggests to me that you should be teaching us about such matters! As it says here, "That will be difficult," and "I'll think about it" are common circumlocutions. Japanese who hear such statements have a pretty good idea that the answer is definitely "no", but non-Japanese usually interpret the word "difficult" literally, as meaning inability or incompetence. (in English, your accent alone probably implies "I mean no offence"! :) –  FumbleFingers Dec 10 '12 at 23:58

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The OED’s earliest citation for no offence is from Shakespeare’s ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, where it appears as Take no offence. On its own it is first recorded in Henry Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones’, in 1749: No offence, I hope. The OED describes it as ‘colloquial’, so you will need to judge carefully when it is appropriate, whether with the sense 'no offence meant' or 'no offence taken'. If you have any doubt, it would be wise to use some other expression instead.

For an inappropriate use, see here.

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Agreed on using it cautiously; it often seems to be used as if it were a get out of jail free card when someone is being deliberately offensive. –  Dan Neely Dec 10 '12 at 15:36
    
@Dan Neely: No offense, but I think the most common context isn't exactly when people are being deliberately offensive - it's when they're vaguely aware that what they're saying might cause offense - but they're just too intellectually lazy to bother with the implications of that, and/or to think of alternative ways of putting their point across without running that risk. –  FumbleFingers Dec 10 '12 at 23:45

Yes, these are common set phrases used to pre-emptively apologise for something that might be construed as insulting—“no offense” is a concise way of saying “I don’t intend to insult you”. In American English anyway, they usually have the form:

—No offense.
—None taken.

Urban Dictionary and The Free Dictionary both have entries for this phrasing. As mentioned on Urban Dictionary, “no offense” is often used facetiously before or after a deliberate insult; you must rely on context to determine whether the sentiment is sincere.

Alternative wordings include:

  • No offense meant.
  • I mean/meant no offense.
  • I didn’t mean to offend.
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