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I have heard conversations similar to this:

'I am an Indian and I don't like racial slurs, do you know where I'm coming from?'
'Yes sir, I understand where you are coming from.'

I am quite familiar with the phrase 'where one is coming from' since that is used a lot where I live. It simply means,

'I understand your point of view' or
'I can see why you think that' or
'I can see that your experiences lead you to that conclusion'.

I would like to know if this phrase is acceptable to native speakers of English because I should be careful not to annoy anyone or commit a faux pas. I hope you know where I'm coming from.

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Do you consider speakers of Indian English not to be "native speakers"? –  coleopterist Jan 11 '13 at 4:33
How are you defining "acceptable"? This seems very close to a polling question unless you can narrow your question a bit. –  simchona Jan 11 '13 at 4:37
@coleopterist: I don't think speakers of Indian English are considered native speakers like the speakers of English in Britain, America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are. –  user32480 Jan 11 '13 at 5:06
There are native AmE speakers, native BrE speakers, native Australian speakers and native Indian English speakers as much as may be similar others. –  Kris Jan 11 '13 at 7:16
Anglosphere is a sociopolitical neologism, usually does not include all countries where English is an official language, although commonly included nations were all once part of the British Empire. –  Kris Jan 12 '13 at 4:39

5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

It’s certainly found in the speech and writing of native speakers, but it’s a cliché, and you might want to avoid it for that reason alone, whether you’re a native speaker or not. It’s heard in the United Kingdom, but its origin is probably American. The earliest citation I’ve been able to track down in the OED is this from the American writer GB Trudeau in 1980: ‘Seriously, I think I know where you're coming from, and I'd like to share that space.’

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Would you believe that until the last sentence of your question I had no reason to suspect you weren't an American? The phrase is very common.

Also, I must disagree with Jim in that, to my ear, responding with "understand" is also completely natural and acceptable. Tone of voice here is more than enough to indicate that the speaker is not changing register, the way I'm hearing the conversation in my head. Of course, at this point, we're not being scientific about it.

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Here's my thoughts: "where I'm coming from" is a fairly informal phrase. And if they've asked the question using "do you know" then I would answer using "Yes I know" in an informal way, switching to understand and not using any contractions (which they've also done) feels like a register shift, and seems slightly patronizing or condescending to me unless the tone of voice and eye contact makes it clear that it is being done out of extreme deference to someone in a senior position. –  Jim Jan 11 '13 at 6:30
Jim, I think you and I are feeling basically the same thing and just disagreeing on which side is the "side of caution". I was erring on safer being less restrictive of a speaker's choice of expression but upon further consideration, you may be right here. Thanks for the further insight! :) –  leoger Jan 11 '13 at 6:35

'Do you know where I'm coming from?' (cliché, could be annoying)
'do you understand what I mean?'; 'you know?'.

Also: catch my drift?; get the drift?; do you see my point?; are we on the same page?; Capeesh?
'follow my train of thought?', or 'understand the direction of my thoughts?'

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"get what I'm saying" and "see what I'm saying" (more common than "hear what I'm saying", but also "you get me" and "you hear me") are very common –  rickyduck Jan 11 '13 at 11:21

As a native English speaker (from England), I think of this as (a) an Americanism, though a commonplace enough one to be easily recognised and understood; (b) somewhat informal; (c) a bit dated - I believe it gained currency in the 60s with the rise (and frequent misuse) of pop psychology.

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Agreed it sounds a bit hippyesque. More annoying is a more modern equivalent "Do you hear what I'm saying?" –  user24964 Jan 11 '13 at 9:16

This is a well-known idiom in American English; however, you will be marked as a foreigner or nerdy if you use it. In the context you described, it would be better to use the popular phrase "Do you know what I mean?"

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Funny. If it is "a well-known idiom in American English", why would you "be marked as a foreigner" for using it? –  Kris Jan 11 '13 at 7:19
At worst you might be called a refugee from the 70's. –  Wayfaring Stranger 4 hours ago

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