Tuesday, February 19, 2008
When did everybody start saying 'if you will'? I noticed a lot of Americans saying it, now it's spread over here, infecting TV news reporters in particular. It means, I suppose, that you have just used a slightly odd or surprising expression and you are disclaiming responsibility by implying that it's all the fault of the listener. As in 'Gordon Brown is a bad thing, a catastrophe if you will.' Personally I prefer 'so to speak' as in 'The Kaiser Chiefs are, so to speak, fantastically irritating and keep appearing everywhere doing phenomenally boring bloke rock when plainly they should be working behind the counter in a hippie bag and candle shop just round the corner from a university that offers degrees in social networking.' 'As it were' is even better. It carries a much heavier load of irony, as when the doctor says you're not going to survive the night - 'You are, as it were, a little unwell.' I knew a man who kept saying 'what I like to call'. One expected this to be the prelude to some entertainingly idiosyncratic verbal construct, but, in fact, it was just a nervous tic, usually inserted before some utterly conventional act of naming, as in 'This is what I like to call a cup of tea'. 'It seems to me' is used by elderly academics. It means 'You are wrong about everything, this is the unarguable truth and I don't care if you disagree because you are, so to speak, stupid.' Anyway, is it possible that 'if you will' is taking over from 'like' and 'whatever'? I suppose it's an improvement.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 7:12 am