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Suppose one makes a statement that is likely to be offensive to its recipient, but will not offend most third parties. Is there a word or expression for this type of statement?

Example: I see someone picking a pocket or "shoplifting," and yell, "Stop, thief!" The perpetrator is likely to be offended, but neutral third parties would likely applaud, rather than be offended by my yelling.

Counterexample: I call you a "sob." You're likely to be offended, but so would many, if not most, third parties.

The expressions that come to my mind are "calling a spade a spade," or "if the shoe fits," but neither quite "rings the bell" for me. Is there a better way to express what I'm describing?

  • In your first scenario, it's called "doing the right thing"! Your second scenario ("counterexample") may need a little refining because though there may be two audiences to your SOB comment, each audience consists of but one person at a time, unless you're saying that when you SOB someone, there is another person present who is also offended. If the latter pertains, then ignore my comment. – rhetorician Jan 20 '14 at 14:19
  • @rhetorician: My supposition was "how would a third party likely react if s/he overheard the comment?" Or we could even be "schoolchildren" and what would the teacher likely say if the other boy "tattled" and told the teacher, "Tom called me an sob." – Tom Au Jan 20 '14 at 14:20
  • @Patrick Calinescu: Congratulations on your first (approved) edit. – Tom Au Jan 20 '14 at 14:28
  • Truth is an absolute defence against a defamation suit (in the United States). Often quoted as "It's only slander if it isn't true". – Elliott Frisch Jan 20 '14 at 14:31
  • Gotcha! Kind of an "affective equivocality." – rhetorician Jan 20 '14 at 16:04
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The simplest term would be "insult":

insult — be offensive to somebody: to say or do something rude or insensitive that offends somebody

If you walk into a room and insult someone, it is unlikely that you will have insulted the entire room unless you used inappropriate language (or the bystanders were insulted through association.)

A more specific type of insult will reduce the chance of offending bystanders:

I insulted his character.

Do not insult my intelligence!

And so on. More colorful terms can be found in a thesaurus entry for insult. Some particularly apt choices:

  • shame
  • slander
  • affront
  • taunt
  • vituperation
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Maybe what do you mean is "Don't beat around the bush"?

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The phrase, "taking something out of context" comes to mind.

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