Bob Moore asks:
Has Language Log ever looked at the origins of "(I'm) just saying'" as a stand alone utterance (without an S or S-bar complement)? In last night's episode of "Downton Abbey" on PBS, one of the servants used it in a scene set in 1916. I am not aware of having heard it much before, say, 2005, so I am wondering if this was a howling anachronism. Just sayin' :-)
I don't think that we've discussed it, except for a comment or two.
But first, what is it? Some of the glosses in the generally-unreliable Urban Dictionary seem to get this one right:
A phrase that is used when someone is offended by something you said. This phrase then removes all the offensiveness of the previous statement, making it all good.
Response when your motive for saying something is questioned and you a) had no motive or b) do not want to reveal your motive.
A phrase used to signify that a previous comment one made was not intended to cause offense or annoyance, but was simply a statement of a personal opinion or an observation that the stater doesn't care enough to fight over.
A published fictional example — Sarah N. Harvey, Death Benefits, 2010:
"How long you figure you're going to be able to play the dead-grandfather card?" Dani's friend Josh asks me after the last class of the day.
"Shut up, Josh," his girlfriend, Taylor, says. "That's so, like, insensitive."
"I'm just sayin'," Josh mutters. "No offense."
"None taken," I say. "I'm giving it, I don't know, maybe a month. Then it'll be getting old."
And another one — Kazuo Ishiguro, The remains of the day, 1989:
__And Mr Harry Smith himself seemed to lose all inhibitions, for now he leaned forward and continued:
__'That's what we fought Hitler for, after all. [...] And it's one of the privileges of being born English that no matter who you are, no matter if you're rich or poor, you're born free and you're born so that you can express your opinion freely, and vote in your member of parliament or vote him out. That's what dignity's really about, if you'll excuse me, sir.'
__'Now now, Harry,' Mr Taylor said. 'I can see yo're warming up to one of your political speeches.'
__This brought laughter. Mr Harry Smith smiled a little shyly, but went on:
__'I'm not talking politics. I'm just saying, that's all.'
Nancy Friedman asked about this phrase back in 2006:
I’m interested in the origins of “I’m just saying” used postpositively. (Also its variant: “I’m not saying, I’m just saying.”) An example: “Have you ever noticed how many people end statements with qualifiers? I’m just saying.” It seems to be an update of “With all due respect,” or perhaps something I’m not thinking of. Is it an East Coast expression? I’m from California and have never heard it in speech, but have noticed it frequently in blog titles and posts.
She got a large number of comments, including a reference to a Daily Show segment "CNN's Just Sayin'", 8/18/2009, noting that "CNN delivers the news like a 12-year-old girl in a new segment called, "Just Sayin'."
(It's interesting that deprecated phrases are stereotypically associated with the speech of girls — even adjacent to lists of very un-girlish examples, as here in Stewart's observation around the 1:48 mark that "I'm thinking that you're using the same phrase to discuss important issues that we use in Jersey to determine that someone's mom is a whore".)
But back to Bob's question: was this phrase anachronistic in 1916?
It's not easy to tell, because the word sequence "just saying" has a lot of more literal uses. Some of them might be taken as infant versions of the idiom, representing a more complete form which the minimal "just sayin'" gesture evokes:
"Don't preach to me, Mrs. Methodist." [...]
"Well, as to preaching, Master Leon, I'm just saying what's right, and I'll say that before anybody."
[Onesimus, Leon, or Old Paul's Treasure, 1854]
I would not encroach, Sir, on your valuable space, but I cannot help just saying, that it would in my opinion be a good thing for the country, if our Ministers would take example by the French, and summon in a woman to assist them in the Council-Chamber. [Letter to Punch from Xantippe Rose Sophia Sophonisba Smith, 1860]
I am not undertaking to say that that is wrong or the other is wrong, but I am just saying, asking you now why you stated that the old man said that all the money that was in there belonged to your mother and he gave it to her. [Foley v. Harrison, Supreme Court of Missouri, 2/28/1911.]
If we omit Bob's condition that say be "without an S or S-bar complement" , then some things like this may qualify, depending on how we interpret "stand alone".
But if we define the idiom to require that "I'm just saying" should lack a complement, and to be used following the perhaps-offensive remark or following an objection to it, then I haven't seen any clear examples from before WWII.