66

Other examples are:

I'm not sexist but (sexist comment)

Not to be a dick, but (dick comment)

No offense, but (offensive comment)

And so on... where they are trying to excuse themselves from what they are about to say?

What is the name of these kinds of statements?

  • 35
    Hypocrisy perhaps? – Pieter Geerkens Nov 19 '13 at 4:14
  • 14
    Love this question. If there isn't such a word, we'll have to invent one. – Pitarou Nov 19 '13 at 5:46
  • 11
    Pardon my French, but (English). :) – Kaz Nov 19 '13 at 8:24
  • 5
    Possibly the same thing: apophasis. – Mitch Nov 19 '13 at 12:28
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    @JoeTaxpayer: A statement "I'm not racist but..." is almost certain to be followed by a statement that at least some people would regard as racist, but the fact that some people might regard something as racist does not imply that it actually is. For example, if an area of town where one race happens to dominate has an exceptionally high rate of crimes against outsiders, some hyper-sensitive people might regard advice to avoid that area as "racist", even though such advice is more likely given on the basis of the high crime rates than the races of the people involved. – supercat Nov 19 '13 at 20:16

12 Answers 12

40

I would call it a conversational disclaimer

No offense, but X

<=>

What I am going to say may sound like I want to offend you, but I can assure you that it's not my intention to offend you.

I am not a racist/sexist, but X

are slightly different since they are disclaimers about the listeners anticipated opinions about the speaker's beliefs.

If these disclaimers are in fact honest is of course a different question altogether.

  • 12
    Your comment about listeners' anticipated opinions hits the nail on the head, IMHO. The fact that X is offended by Y may sometimes indicate that Y did something offensive, but sometimes the fault may lie partially--or even entirely--with the person taking offense. That one person expects another to claim offense at his statement does not imply that the former person would expect such a claim to have any justification. – supercat Nov 19 '13 at 20:39
  • 1
    +1 I believe the highfalutin term for this is procatalepsis. – pilcrow Aug 26 '14 at 16:39
30

It's an example of a qualifying statement.

This site notes that, by far, "I'm not a racist, but" is the most common example people think of when they think of a qualifier.

  • 5
    "in most cases, a qualifying statement is followed by a lie." -- which isn't to say that the qualifying statement itself is a lie. – JSBձոգչ Nov 19 '13 at 15:55
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    I'm not an expert, but I don't think that it's fair to say most of the time qualified statements are followed by lies. Are we sure we're not taking that line out of context? Maybe most of the time people are making press announcements this is might be true. Qualifying statements have so many uses that I doubt that, thats really true. (Perhaps you have a source to rebut?) – user606723 Nov 19 '13 at 18:05
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    @user606723 nice use of a qualifying statement to make your point :) – Bobble Nov 19 '13 at 21:35
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    @JSBձոգչ in the example of "I'm not a racist, but" generally the following statement is an untruth that the speaker genuinely believes, and hence not a lie, whereas the qualifier is an untruth that they may or may not believe, so it's potentially a lie: it will be said both by racists who honestly don't believe they're racist, and racists who know they are. – Jon Hanna Nov 21 '13 at 11:18
  • I'm pretty sure I'm right about this, but qualifying statements aren't necessarily lies. These ones happen to be. I don't respect the credibility of whoever made up this term for something far more specific. – user36720 Aug 30 '14 at 22:29
12

This is known as a fallacy of the stolen concept. The conclusion of the statement contradicts one of its premises — thus the concept is stolen from the context that gives its meaning. It was first identified by Ayn Rand and elegantly defined as:

the fallacy of using a concept while denying the validity of its genetic roots, i.e., of an earlier concept(s) on which it logically depends.

If single words are preferred, there are several of which I prefer the following, depending on the context:

  • lying
  • context-dropping
  • 4
    How would you characterize "I'm not a racist, but I'd suggest you stay out of the XX neighborhood after dark" [assuming the neighborhood's occupants are widely known to be primarily of a particular race]? Such a statement shouldn't generally be construed as racist, but that doesn't mean there aren't some people who would regard it as such. – supercat Nov 19 '13 at 20:26
  • 1
    @supercat With your example I'd argue that the reason for staying out of a neighbourhood has little to do with race and more to do with the level of violent crime in that area. Or alternatively one could recontruct the sentence as "Some/many people in that neighbourhood are racist so be careful". Whether the speaker in your example is racist or not is not relevant to the warning. – Jaydee Nov 20 '13 at 10:34
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    @Jaydee: There are some people who are prone to interpreting anything negative about something which is strongly associated with a particular race as being a an attack on the race itself. Those who have to deal with such people may frequently get called racist even when they are not. The disclaimer "I'm not a racist but..." isn't apt to be particularly convincing, but that hardly implies that it's a lie. It may just mean that the person is so used to being falsely accused of being a racist as to be defensive about it. – supercat Nov 20 '13 at 15:55
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    @supercat, by adding "I'm not a racist, but" to the statement, the speaker makes a connection between the race of the people in the neighborhood and the advice to avoid it. – The Photon Nov 21 '13 at 3:46
7

Other examples of this behavior can be found that don't quite match the same grammatical pattern:

What?! I'm not gay! ... not that there's anything wrong with that...

To play devil's advocate, one objection could be X.

I don't agree with him, but Bob thinks [...]

I know you didn't want jewelry for your birthday, but...

These are very similar to the intent conveyed by, "No offense, but [...]" in the sense that the speaker knows full well that the content is objectionable or incorrect. Or, at the very least, wants to head off any such criticism. A more drastic example:

YOU ARE COMPLETELY WRONG AND ONLY A FOOL WOULD THINK THAT WAY! But that's just my humble opinion...

This entire grouping of behavior is very popular in passive-aggressive cultures because it allows them to act offensively while offering a quick defensive against anyone calling them out for being offensive. Yet another drastic example:

I hate everything about you. Just kidding!

When used maliciously, all of these are forms of special pleading in an attempt to avoid criticism of the offensive or inappropriate behavior:

Special pleading [...] involves someone attempting to cite something as an exception to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exception.

In each of the examples above, there is an extremely obvious objection or offense but the speaker is invoking special pleading by simply claiming the objection or offense doesn't apply in this case. The easiest way to check for this is to show what happens if you don't include the exception until after the objection:

  • (sexist comment)
  • Hey! That's sexist!
  • I'm not sexist.

  • (dick comment)
  • Hey! Stop being a dick!
  • I wasn't being a dick.

In this context, it is purely a disagreement. But when you acknowledge the disagreement before using the objectionable phrase, people are much more likely to stay quiet and let you get away with it. This is a successful application of special pleading.

I am not sure if this special type of special pleading has its own term. Another way of wording this behavior would be:

Acknowledging a criticism in order to preempt the criticism from being voiced in an attempt to ignore the criticism altogether.


By the way, another common logical fallacy in this area is appeal to motive:

appeal to motive — claiming that something isn't sexist/racist/etc. because it wasn't intended to be sexist/racist/etc.

This term does not quite fully describe the specific pattern you mention in your examples but it tends to go hand-in-hand.

4

Whether or not the person who says such things is actually guilty of what they are trying to negate, these are examples of negation and denial. So these would be factually correct words to describe the examples in the question (where the person is actually guilty) as well as valid negation (the person is not actually racist/sexist etc) alluded to after the examples. Note also the difference between "being in denial" and "denial".

To be more descriptive, you could call this preemptive negation or preemptive denial.

  • I was just going to offer "preemptive denial" as an answer: At some level, the speaker is conscious that some people (including perhaps some among the present company) may find the not-yet-voiced opinion offensive, so the preamble is an attempt to insulate the speaker from the (vaguely) anticipated charge that it is repellant. I would be very curious to know if anyone ever achieved immunity from responsibility for an offensive statement by introducing it with this tactical preface. – Sven Yargs May 23 '14 at 22:02
1

Not that I don't know that this should be about English language but maybe this is an example of:

Excusatio Non Petita
Accusatio Manifesta

EDIT: Although it might well happen that, when someone applies this phrase to you, intending to accuse you of something, they are actually using it as a rhetorical device. I support Mario's view that often it's just a conversational disclaimer: «I know/fear that what I am going to say might hurt your feelings and that is not my intention but, if you want to know my opinion, my opinion is that …»

1

I would call it Bailing yourself out

Bailing yourself out of a possible controversial statement that you are going to make.

1

These 'comment clauses' frame the matrix sentence rather than add anything to its semantic content. They are added rather in the same way 'Allegedly' is before a statement that could otherwise invite a libel action. They are mitigating pragmatic markers (self- or addressee-directed or bidirectional): hedges.

  • 1
    The term is a good answer, but it's not well constructed. – dwjohnston May 26 '14 at 1:32
  • Whatever do you mean by that? 'Pragmatic marker' is a fairly widely accepted and used term, and Fraser has: 'A sixth type of commentary pragmatic markers are markers of mitigation'. Use 'pragmatic markers subclass mitigation' if you like the sound better. – Edwin Ashworth May 26 '14 at 8:13
1

That is a very good question indeed. However, I don't think it's possible to answer it the way you'd like us to.

What you're asking about may be a rhetoric/eristic device, or have a phatic function. IMHO (at least, in my native tongue) it's function and/or meaning depends strongly on context, intonation, speech speed, intentions, etc.

I like to believe people are basically good, so in my world the "I-am-not-but" would mostly be a reservation/clarification only. "I'm not gay, but that dude's a real turn-on" meaning "Don't let the stereotype fool you, I'm just saying he's handsome." Of course, it's just me.

I'm not sure it's at all helpful.

0

It's dissembling.

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/dissembling

to conceal one's true motives, thoughts, etc., by some pretense

  • 2
    -1 I don't think there's any intentional concealing or deceit. Rather the speaker is aware that their statement will have a likely reaction and is prempting or mitigating its impact. – dwjohnston May 26 '14 at 1:34
  • That's an opinion. – Neil W May 26 '14 at 8:46
  • @dwjohnston is correct. Furthermore, to presume you know the "true motives and thoughts" of the speaker is an opinion. So calling this statement "dissembling" is an assertion about the true thoughts and motives of the speaker. Thus you are claiming to be a mind reader. None of this comment is an opinion. – Wildcard Feb 14 '17 at 0:32
0

The single word descriptor for this would be "disavowal," that is to say, "I know very well that I am racist, but I'll say that I am not so as to disavow racism itself."

-1

I would either call them "a liar" or "being in denial" depending on if they believe themselves or not.

  • 2
    Not in all cases are they necessarily liars or in denial. It depends on the context. – vsz Jan 19 '14 at 20:27

protected by tchrist May 25 '14 at 21:54

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