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I am not a native English speaker and in some cases particular phrasing can sound neutral to me but actually be rude and vice versa. I always thought that "think again" in phrases like "If you think that ..., then think again" is something if not rude but at least passive aggressive. But recently I've encountered a lot of examples of "think again" that put my "this-is-rude" hypothesis in question.

For instance:

If you think the influencer’s penchant for big lips reflects a modern beauty fad, then think again.

or

But if the song sets you up to expect some kind of concerted attempt at a pop crossover — his John Legend moment, let’s say — then think again.

So, my question is - how much "then think again" is neutral? Can I, for instance, use it in corporate communications?

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    It depends how informal you want your corporate communications to be. Both your examples read as though they are from articles written in a light, conversational tone. Nov 24, 2023 at 12:51
  • "Corporate communications" can mean anything from ad copy or internal communications about staff parties in a cool tech business or an entertainment venue, to the most formal output from a bank or funeral parlour. A chain of nightclubs does not communicate in the same language as an insurance company.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 24, 2023 at 12:53
  • @StuartF this is exactly why I'm asking a question whether it's neutral. There are phrases that are valid in 100% cases - like saying "I disagree" there are phrases that are inappropriate in ANY corporate environment - like you know, "fuck you". And there's a lof of things in the middle.
    – shabunc
    Nov 24, 2023 at 13:24
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    In speech, context, intonation, gesture, and facial expression will always make the difference between a friendly (yes, it can sound friendly) and a rude "think again".
    – Centaurus
    Nov 24, 2023 at 13:58
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    @Anton, the correct answer to this question may indeed be that the rudeness of the phrase is context-dependent, but that doesn't make the question itself opinion-based in the sense in which this phrase is used on this site. Explaining when a phrase will be perceived as rude, and when it won't be is not a matter of opinion, and is well within the domain of this site. If the comments have already covered the ground well, they can be 'upgraded' to a formal answer.
    – jsw29
    Nov 24, 2023 at 17:09

2 Answers 2

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Think again is just an established "set phrase" meaning You are mistaken. I will tell you what you should be thinking.

It's not always an "arrogant" usage. Nobody would be annoyed by an advert saying something like Thought you couldn't afford a Rolls-Royce? Think again!

But it's typically used in contexts like If you think you can pull the wool over my eyes then you can think again - for example, a teacher or similar "talking down" to his charges. It reminds me of You've got another think coming!, which I'd say is always somewhat contemptuous.

I'd certainly advise non-native Anglophones to avoid it unless they're absolutely certain their target audience won't resent having whatever they currently think casually dismissed like that.

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  • +1 I'd put that caveat in boldface.
    – TimR
    Nov 25, 2023 at 16:58
  • You mean unless they're absolutely certain [it'll be accepted]? Nov 25, 2023 at 17:10
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If you think "think again" is safe for work, think again.

In AmE, "think again" is a form of finger-wagging or confrontation when it's used directly person-to-person rather than in contexts like the Rolls Royce example FumbleFingers gave, where you'd be happy to learn you'd been wrong. I can afford one after all!

I can think of very few situations at work where that phrase would go over well, especially in situations where you really want to use it!

If you think I'm going to work this weekend because you've been dragging your feet hiring a replacement for Bob, think again.

If you think my direct reports are going to be happy with a 1% raise when I've given them "consistently exceeds expectations" on their quarterly reviews, think again.

I don't think it's used as follows, merely to say that someone is wrong about a fact:

If you think Messi scored two goals in that game, think again.

but I would agree with FumbleFingers that it's about what the other person should be thinking, in the sense that the phrase is typically used to confront someone about their attitude and behavior.

I've been asked to say whether I think the expression is sometimes "arrogant". I suppose it could be arrogant sometimes. But I know that it is probably imprudent to use this expression at work, when it is used in the confrontation mode rather than the you-will-be-happy-to-learn-you-are-wrong mode. And that is the case whether it is used with a superior or with a coworker on your own "level" or with a subordinate.

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    You should back this up or otherwise give an explanation. I think it is "safe for work" (at least in some contexts) especially compared with language that really isn't and will send you straight to HR, such as slurs.
    – Laurel
    Nov 25, 2023 at 17:11
  • @Laurel If you think I'm going to back this up, think again. Is that backup enough?
    – TimR
    Nov 25, 2023 at 17:17
  • It would be helpful to those who come to this page in the future if you made it more explicit how you disagree with @FumbleFingers. Note that FumbleFingers says that this is 'not always an "arrogant" usage' (which implicates that it sometimes is) and advises non-native speakers against using it unless they really know what they are doing.
    – jsw29
    Nov 26, 2023 at 16:36
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    @jsw29, TimR: Surely if you think you can pull the wool over my eyes then you can think again is an example of the "arrogant" usage. Nov 27, 2023 at 14:48
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    I think that's a relatively meaningless fine distinction in the current context, where all that really matters is whether you could reasonably use the expression when talking to, say, your boss at work. Hey, boss! You thought I wouldn't finish project X until the end of the year. But think again! I started it the help of chatgpt this morning, and it's already more than halfway complete! That's "non-confrontational", same as my "Rolls-Royce" example, By comparison, the "pull the wool over my eyes" is definitely aggressive / arrogant / confrontational / unwise when talking to your boss! Nov 27, 2023 at 16:35

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