In the Hindi language there is an equivalent phrase which is widely used when a common man who is trying to suggest an idea to a person in power or some higher authority respectfully without challenging the latter's incompetency to 'not see the flaw' in the system. Example: A head of the police department being addressed by a common man (person of a lower stratum) giving an intellectual suggestion. I have translated a suggestion which was originally in Hindi.

Common man: Small mouth big words but Sir, wouldn't it be a better idea to install wireless communication systems in police station too?

Is this phrase used in a similar fashion in English too? The only phrase I have seen is 'in my humble opinion' used at the start of sentence in such cases. Another phrase I know is 'Small mouth, big talk' but I haven't seen it used as a prefix in sentences. Any other appropriate suggestions are also welcome.

  • 1
    Incompetence to not see the flaw in what? Actually, I don't understand "incompetence to not see the flaw". And a valuable addition to the question would be two or three sentences from a conversation where the epithet is used.
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 18, 2015 at 7:19
  • I certainly have never heard the phrase used in English.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 18, 2015 at 7:24
  • 1
    @AndrewLeach, Hotlicks: Is this more clear now? Nov 18, 2015 at 7:40
  • @JonyAgarwal If I can just ask, what's the Hindi original version of that phrase?
    – Elian
    Nov 18, 2015 at 9:29
  • 3
    At the risk of stirring up a hornet's nest, it is worth noting that the heart of this question is as much about a cultural difference as a linguistic one. I work in the US for an India based company, and have experienced these differences. In English-dominant cultures, if we don't have an expression for this, it's just because we don't feel the need for it. If one person has information that another does not, then regardless of social status, the first will speak up, and not even think about it. We just don't have that same level of automatic deference to authority.
    – cobaltduck
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:45

7 Answers 7


The phrase "Small mouth, big words" in the example given is casting self-doubt on the speaker (with his "small mouth") to make the bold suggestion (the "big words").

English -- British English at least -- doesn't have a strict equivalent, although there are expressions which express a similar concept:

With all due respect, ...
If I might be so bold as to suggest ...
Far be it from me to say so ...

...all of which acknowledge the speaker's position.

As an aside, "small mouth, big words" sounds far more likely to be used dismissively of someone else whom you don't think should be making the suggestion. It's an insult. The reason there isn't anything directly equivalent is that we don't normally insult ourselves.

  • 2
    All these types of phrases run a risk of sounding like 'toadying'.
    – Dan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 10:02
  • 3
    @Dan And the original Hindi version doesn't?!
    – Andrew Leach
    Nov 18, 2015 at 10:03
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    @JonyAgarwal - this looks amusing. But it is also, surely, a rather special case usage! In an ordinary, adult context in the UK, preliminary phrases of the formulaic kind offered as answers to your OP run a serious risk of self-parody.
    – Dan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 12:28
  • 4
    I would avoid the phrase "With all due respect" as it tends to mean "I think that you are totally wrong about this.": it's actually quite an aggressive opener for a statement: it's like calling someone an idiot. The second two are, in my opinion, overly self-deprecating and a little long winded. I would say instead "I hope you won't mind me suggesting this, but how about installing wifi in the police station?" Nov 18, 2015 at 15:58
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    Maybe it's an old british person thing. I'm a middle-aged british person and if someone started saying "If I might be so bold as to suggest..." i'd think "Jesus, just get on with it will you..." Nov 19, 2015 at 9:03

You could consider using "if I may say so" which is:

used for introducing a personal comment, when you know that the person who you are speaking to may find this offensive.

[Macmillan Online Dictionary]

You could also consider saying "if I may be/make so bold (as to)" which is:

a ​polite way of ​asking for or ​suggesting something when you do not ​want to ​offend someone: If I may be so bold, you still haven't ​mentioned why you're here.

[Cambridge Online Dictionary]

You could shorten both of them to "if I may" and it is broadly used when you feel awkward to cut in any conversation or start a new conversation in front of your boss or senior.

If I may say so/If I may be so bold, wouldn't it be a better idea to install wireless communication systems in police station too?

  • "If I may" is probably best of these, but "May I make a suggestion?" as below is good too, because it is a little more polite perhaps than just rushing into the suggestion while not sounding too servile. Nov 18, 2015 at 20:10
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    @EvanDonovan I agree with you.
    – user140086
    Nov 19, 2015 at 4:45

Most English formulations of this idea run a serious risk of sounding obsequious. If you want to make a suggestion to a more powerful person it's hard to find fault with a simple -

May I make a suggestion?

  • 1
    This is a highly subjective question. I think this is the best suggestion though, because the other options all either sound obsequious / toadying or else falsely humble. "In my humble opinion" is never meant literally in my experience, these days at least. Nov 18, 2015 at 20:09


I mean no disrespect, but...


No disrespect to... but...

used before you say something that might offend someone, to show that you do not intend to offend them

(Macmillan Dictionary)

  • Hmm... isn't it pretty well established now that "everything after the but" is what you really mean?
    – Dan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 12:32
  • "But" has a plethora of meanings. How about "Excuse me, sir, but I think this is a non-smoking area"? Does it mean the person is not being genuinely polite, because "excuse me" is followed by "but"? If you have a reference for the "well-established" part, I'd be curious to take a look.
    – A.P.
    Nov 18, 2015 at 12:54
  • Of course it is possible to use 'but' without disingenuity but (!) in the context of the OP its use can easily be ..ticklish! Anyway, that's an interesting challenge! I'll see what I can find.
    – Dan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 14:53
  • The last one gives some interesting example. I think possibly disingenuity can arise when but is used to express personal opinions/feelings ... youtube.com/watch?v=J1wTgyWvQ38, lawrencefineblogs.com/2009/02/…, uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110527035707AAIaFo4
    – Dan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 15:00
  • Dan, I'll check the links, but this may indeed be an interesting question. Perhaps you should post it? It might garner attention of some who are much more qualified in such grammatical technicalities than yours truly.
    – A.P.
    Nov 18, 2015 at 18:17

Consider, [I mean] no offense [but...]

Please don't feel insulted, I don't mean to offend you, as in No offense, but I think you're mistaken. This expression, first recorded in 1829, generally accompanies a statement that could be regarded as insulting but is not meant to be, as in the example. The American Heritage® Dictionary

No offense, sir, but wouldn't it be a better idea to install wireless communication systems in police station too?


: an act that offends a person's sense of pride or dignity

: a lack of politeness; a failure to show regard for others; wounding the feelings or others

: the act of causing anger, resentment, displeasure, or affront. The Free Dictionary


With all humility (Ephesians 4:2), I submit that you have already supplied a form of what is most common when you suggested

in my humble opinion.

That expression, because it sounds more formal than

with (or in) all humility,

and because it does not so nearly echo a familiar expression from the bible (cited above), is less used in English than the latter.

"In my humble opinion" also may fail because it may suggest that the speaker is saying their opinion is humble, rather than that the speaker herself is humble.

  • 3
    It also runs a risk of sounding like Uriah Heep !
    – Dan
    Nov 18, 2015 at 10:00

"Please don't shoot the messenger..." seems like the closest equivalent to me. Some of the other suggestions are perhaps more accurate but (as another commenter rightly pointed out) seem very obsequious or antiquated, perhaps just a reflection of change in English-speaking cultures from when they originated. "Don't shoot the messenger" doesn't convey the same hierarchical positioning but does relate a sense of apology from the speaker themselves that seems central.

  • "Please don't shoot the messenger..." is usually used in a situation where you're delivering bad news that you are not responsible for. If what you're saying is your own idea then the phrase doesn't really apply. Feb 4, 2020 at 17:44

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