Having discovered that Rick Perry is a right-leaning hedger, if you will, while Mitt Romney is, if you will, a leftish hedger, I wondered what the distribution of these alternatives might be in general American usage.
So to start with, I took advantage of the feature that Mark Davies has added to his interface for COCA and other text corpora, which will give you a random sample of a set that's too large for convenient inspection as a whole. I needed this because COCA has 3,855 instances of the string "if you will" (for a rate of 3.69 per million words), and I neither wanted nor needed to classify all 3,855 of them.
In my classification, I distinguished four uses of "if you will":
|(1)||LEFT hedge||and, if you will, they're the arteries in the system
that perspective sounds, if you will, very libertarian
|(2)||RIGHT hedge||those who are attuned, if you will, to the discourse
Helena's kind of claimed her – forgive me, parents – bitchiness, if you will
|(3)||SOFTENER of imperatives||let's look at item 49, if you will
talk to me, if you will, about how that was covered
|(4)||NOT a hedge or softener||I'll get my missiles out of Cuba if you will get yours out of Turkey
If you will do that, I can get on very fast
In my classification of a random sample of 100 COCA "if you will" hits, the counts (and therefore, equivalently, percentages) were:
|(3)||SOFTENER of imperatives||16||16%|
|(4)||NOT a hedge or softener||10||10%|
If we look only the hedges, 66 to 8 is about 66/74=89% cases where "if you will" follows the word or phrase it hedges, rather than preceding it.
I did the same thing with 75 of the 135 hits in the 26,151,602 words of LDC conversational telephone speech (an overall rate of 5.16 instances of "if you will" per million words):
|(3)||SOFTENER of imperatives||2||3%|
|(4)||NOT a hedge or softener||6||8%|
This is pretty much the same pattern — in particular, we see 62/68 = 91% cases where "if you will" follows rather than precedes what it hedges.
The big difference is that in the phone transcripts, there were only 3% softeners instead of 16%. That's probably because COCA's material is mostly interview transcripts, where things like this are instantly recognizable as Interviewerese: "General, tell me, if you will, where did this happen and why are you convinced that it was just road-clearing dynamite?" And interviewees also have some rhetorical tactics where "if you will" serves as an imperative-softener: "So imagine , if you will, if you had to learn Dari or Pashto and pilot training and a new aircraft and, oh, by the way, go fly in combat." Both of these would be a little strange in an informal conversation, it seems to me.
Looking at the CTS transcripts also tends to confirm the plausible hypothesis that there are individual styles in things like this. Thus of the three "LEFT hedge" cases that I found, three came from one speaker:
um and then as they try to exercise that if you will censorship
um then they have a problem uh because people don't believe in that they say it should be exposed to anybody who wants to uh to read it
uh a lot of school systems use the public library so uh they go to the public library and nobody's sorta looking over their shoulder
to see what they've picked up or what they're sorta reading um there again the parent has to become involved and participate uh and if you will control
oh i well i guess many years ago i went to a school where you didn't have a library [laughter] but that was a little different uh nowadays i guess they all have a library but a lot of 'em are um
if you will um th- they utilize the public library because it might be uh in the same um building or the uh building right is uh adjacent to
In the cited collection of telephone conversations, men are more than twice as likely as women to use the hedging version of "if you will".