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Two days ago I sent a mail to a university I am interested in, asking for the ratio of Early-Decision–accepted students to Regular-Decision–accepted ones. I received this answer part of larger mail.

Offhand I do not know the ratio of Early Decision applicants to Regular Decision applicants.

What does offhand mean? I used a few English–French dictionaries but it still remains unclear. Moreover, what is the tone of this sentence? I feel a lot of annoyance — am I right?

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    There is no annoyance implied. It simply means the speaker was not prepared to answer at the moment. See definition of offhand – p.s.w.g Jul 15 '13 at 16:30
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    The definition of offhand is general reference, but the connotation - what tone it gives the sentence - is not. That said, since you are clearly asking this because you are learning English, please check out our site specifically for English Language Learners. – Marthaª Jul 15 '13 at 18:15
  • @tor Thanks. I've re-posted my comment as an Answer (and deleted the comment), so that you can accept it, if you're so inclined to. – TrevorD Jul 15 '13 at 23:30
  • @TrevorD No problem! – torr Jul 15 '13 at 23:41
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    @Kris The OP implies he is quoting - and there is nothing to suggest the contrary - so clearly it was used in that way. So it makes nonsense to say it "is never used in this way". In fact, I'm sure that, at times, I've said "I don't know offhand". Moreover, the definition from M-W (linked in an answer below) has, as an example, "Do you happen to know, offhand, when he'll be back?" – TrevorD Jul 28 '13 at 15:08
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It means he doesn't know the ratio without having to check the data, which he is not prepared to do.

The answer is short and to the point - and, I would say, of neutral tone. There is certainly not "a lot of annoyance": it may even be unfair to imply any annoyance. He could just be answering quickly and briefly because he has a lot of other things to do.

[Re-posted from comment, because apparently accepted by OP.]

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It means "I didn't bother to research it, and am not going to." In other words, the data was not immediately available.

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Others have given the meaning of offhand used adverbially in this way.

There is an entirely different meaning of offhand as an adjective, to describe a person or a person's manner: it means something like disrespectful, or not taking somebody seriously.

So, offhand I can't think of any has no emotional or judgmental component; but

He was offhand with me is judging his behaviour as dismissive or disrespectful.

  • Just curious: how might you characterize an offhand remark then? – tchrist Jul 16 '13 at 3:28
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    I think this could have either meaning, in context. It is more likely my first meaning above, so my distinction of the use of the two meanings is not complete. I did say "to describe a person or a person's manner" for the second meaning, which this is not. – Colin Fine Jul 16 '13 at 16:39
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Essentially, it means I don't have the information handy, I don't know the ratio in my head, and I don't have somewhere I can readily look it up.

The dictionary is the best place for these answers.

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