Today's "Candorville," by Darrin Bell:
(As usual, click on the image for a larger version.)
This isn't the first time that Lemont Brown (Candorville's nerdy protagonist) has intruded on the conversation of the two women on the bench. Here's the Aug. 6, 2008 strip:
In his latest intrusion, it's refreshing to see Lemont identify himself as a member of the Idiom Police, since his too-literal reading of "if you will" has nothing to do with grammar. But working for the Idiom Police must be a thankless task, since English idioms are rife with apparent illogicality. When I was writing the On Language column for The New York Times Magazine, readers often wrote in with idioms that they found troublesome. I responded to two such examples: "if worst comes to worst" and "have your cake and eat it too." But there are many more where those came from.
As for "if you will," the Oxford English Dictionary says it is "sometimes used parenthetically to qualify a word or phrase: = ‘if you wish it to be so called’, ‘if you choose or prefer to call it so.’" Citations are given for the exact phrase back to the 16th century, with similar elliptical uses dating back to Old English. Geoffrey Pullum has noted that "if you will" can serve the same function as the much-maligned discourse particle like: "a way to signal hedging about vocabulary choice — a momentary uncertainty about whether the adjacent expression is exactly the right form of words or not." Beyond that sort of hedging, "if you will" and its phrasal kin ("so to speak," "as it were," "if you like") may be doing other pragmatic work, such as "making a concession… without commit[ting] the writer or speaker to that position fully" (as the UsingEnglish website puts it).
What "if you will" does not do, of course, is require the interlocutor to "accept the words you just chose to say," as Lemont claims. I suspect Lemont's the type of non-Gricean guy who responds to the discursive filler "you know" with "No, I don't know."
(Hat tip, Nancy Friedman.)