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I've seen in writing and on screen the phrase "but of course" used as a stand alone sentence. If one were to substitute just "of course" would the meaning change?

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    Both expressions are responses to a question or comment from a third party. They are both saying that the answer should be obvious to the questioner. The "but" just adds emphasis to the response. "Are we going to dinner on my birthday?" "Of course" is the positive response. "But of course" expresses mild surprise that the question should even have been asked. – Ronald Sole Sep 27 '16 at 19:37
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    Additionally, both can sound patronising / dismissive if not used with care, and 'But of course' more so (and also starchy). – Edwin Ashworth Sep 27 '16 at 19:46
  • But of course, the meaning would change... – Mina Sep 27 '16 at 19:56
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"Of course" is meant to be reassuring.

"But of course" is mildly demeaning, since it implies that the question did not deserve attention.

It may be acceptable when said by someone in authority to someone more junior in a family context, such as by a grandmother to a granddaughter. Outside of that context, as the people become less and less familiar (from neighbors to strangers, for example), or the relationship more regimented, it becomes more insulting.

  • A brief look at the Ngram viewer convinces me that your conclusion is unsupported. Do you have evidence for it? And if I ask the pilot whether we're going to crash and he says, "Of course", I don't see how that's meant to be reassuring. – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 2:29
  • Well, @deadrat, since you ask, I went to grammar school in England, where I studied English and Drama. I'm not trying to sound superior, but I was relying on personal experience in the UK, which supports my position. As for the pilot the pilot's response, I believe you are trying to confuse the issue. He is being reassuring about your understanding of the situation. If a pupil asks the teacher if she can use the rest room, and the teacher replies "Of course", there's no artificial construct of danger to confuse the issue. – jaxter Sep 28 '16 at 3:10
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    Well, since you volunteered, I'm not trying to sound condescending, but I'm unimpressed by your attendance at English grammar school, partially because I have no way of confirming that. Reassurance is the removal of doubt or fear, so the most we can say is that the pilot is informing me. The teacher is doing something slightly different -- granting permission -- because the query is for permission not information. I don't see reassurance there either. [con't]-> – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 4:33
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    <-[con't] But of course can be insulting, but that's not built into the phrase.Just about anything can be insulting given the right circumstance. Perhaps you know the old story of the jester who claimed (an proved) to the king that an apology could be an insult. But that doesn't mean that the jester thereby proved that apologies are insults. But of course can mean that the question doesn't deserve attention, but a brief look at actual usage leads me to believe that its core meaning is the obviousness of the answer. – deadrat Sep 28 '16 at 4:39
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    @deadrat - Does jaxter have any evidence for his conclusion? But of course! The phrase had a period of popularity during the running of the Grey Poupon mustard commercials in which the dismissive tone provided the comedy: youtu.be/uwOCOm9Z0YE – unpythonic Jan 13 '17 at 21:22

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