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For some reason I am convinced that such a word exists, that I've heard it used in classroom settings, and that I'll recognize it when I see it. But I have no idea what it is. I tried googling this elusive word and failed miserably; I asked a few friends, but they couldn't think of it either. Help!

Suppose someone says: "Well, I don't know much about this topic, and I could be wrong, but XYZ." I feel there's a word to describe the opening that leads into XYZ. It's a sort of hedging: you aren't fully committing yourself; you're worried about being wrong. I can almost hear a high-school teacher saying "Don't start an answer with a _."

Any ideas?

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    The word "disclaimer" from your title seems most apt to me. For obscure vocabulary words which mean "starting a statement with a hypocritical and disingenuous denial", try "aphophasis" on for size. – Dan Bron Aug 27 '14 at 20:41
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    In linguistic terms, a hedge is a mitigating word or sound used to lessen the impact of an utterance. Arguably that's a somewhat technical usage that wouldn't necessarily be either used or understood by most people, but practically everyone would be familiar with "Stop hedging!" used to mean "Stop beating around the bush! Give me a straight answer!". – FumbleFingers Aug 27 '14 at 20:58
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    disclaimer, caveat and hedge are already words for disclaimers, caveats, and hedges. There's no need for another. – Oldcat Aug 27 '14 at 21:29
  • Actually, I think @Oldcat's right, but maybe you just need the right phrase to use those words. I'd say "Don't preface everything with a disclaimer" or "You don't need to couch every response with a caveat" – Kristina Lopez Aug 27 '14 at 22:08
  • Also, don't apologize in advance. (While you're at it, don't thank in advance, either, but that's another topic.) – SrJoven Aug 27 '14 at 23:20
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It may seem oxymoronic to identify the prefatory statement, "Well, I don't know much about this topic" as a qualification, but the speaker is qualifying (that is, limiting) the level of confidence with which the statement is offered and with which it should be received, by asserting up-front his or her lack of qualifications (in the sense of credentialed competence or expertise) to make the statement.

In addition to qualification, words that might be used to describe prefacing a statement with a preamble that narrows the applicability or reach of the statement by downplaying the speaker's independent knowledge or expertise are proviso, stipulation, reservation, and (two words) limiting condition, along with caveat, disclaimer, and hedge (which the poster identified at the outset).

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Some of the following will fit reasonably well into the example sentence, “Don’t start an answer with [a/an] _.”

excuse, “An explanation designed to avoid or alleviate guilt or negative judgment”
self-deprecation, “The disparagement of one's own abilities”
disclaimer, “A public disavowal, as of pretensions, claims, opinions, and the like”
alibi, “An excuse, especially one used to avoid responsibility or blame”
apology, “An expression of remorse or regret for having said or done something...”

(Link sources: wiktionary)

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I may be wrong but... "Don't start an answer with (a) derogation"

Dictionary.com

  • Derogate: to detract, as from authority, estimation, etc.
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'Don't prevaricate / equivocate'.

[Google Dictionary]:

equivocate verb

use ambiguous language so as to conceal the truth or avoid committing oneself.

"the government have equivocated too often in the past"

synonyms: prevaricate, be evasive, be non-committal, be vague, be ambiguous, evade/dodge the issue, beat about the bush, hedge, hedge one's bets, fudge the issue;

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