Feelings, beliefs, and thoughts

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Molly Worthen, "Stop Saying 'I Feel Like'", NYT 4/30/2016:

In American politics, few forces are more powerful than a voter’s vague intuition. “I support Donald Trump because I feel like he is a doer,” a senior at the University of South Carolina told Cosmopolitan. “Personally, I feel like Bernie Sanders is too idealistic,” a Yale student explained to a reporter in Florida. At a Ted Cruz rally in Wisconsin in April, a Cruz fan declared, “I feel like I can trust that he will keep his promises.”  

These people don’t think, believe or reckon. They “feel like.” Listen for this phrase and you’ll hear it everywhere, inside and outside politics. This reflex to hedge every statement as a feeling or a hunch is most common among millennials. But I hear it almost as often among Generation Xers and my own colleagues in academia. As in so many things, the young are early carriers of a broad cultural contagion.

This is a lovely specimen of a Kids Today peeve. Some NYT editor added a picture that also suggests the Policing Women's Language trope:

but Molly Worthen explicitly rejects this interpretation:

The data suggests that young women use the phrase slightly more often than men, but in my own classes, male students begin almost every statement with “I feel like.” The gender gap is vanishing because the cultural roots of this linguistic shift were never primarily a consequence of gender.

I explored this issue a few years ago, in response to a query from Katie Baker, who wrote about it in "Ladies, What's Up With the 'I Feel Like' Verbal Tic?", Jezebel 8/23/2013. I discussed our interaction in the post"I feel like", 8/24/2013:

The idiom " I feel like" is indeed increasing in frequency, and its use is indeed gendered.
[But] summing it up, there's no evidence in these counts for any overall difference in "hedging" between men and women.

This supports my hypothesis that women use "I feel like" more than men simply because that phrase has been increasing sharply in frequency over the past few decades, and women are leading that trend, as they often do.

If you're interested in the data as well as the feelings, read the whole thing.

(That post was referenced in an article by Rich Smith, "I Feel Like We Say 'I Feel Like' All the Time", The Stranger 7/15/2015, which also cites some interesting research by Marisa Brook on the history of complementizer like  — see "Comparative Complementizers in Canadian English: Insights from Early Fiction", University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 2014)

In the comments on that 2013 post, J.W. Brewer noted that the entry on feel in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage (1994) cites Copperud 1964 quoting

… one Alice Hamilton, MD., from an article in the Atlantic (September 1954), as being amused by "the increasing rejection of believe and think in favor of feel."

The 1954 Atlantic article in question is "Words Lost, Strayed, or Stolen", and it starts with this peever's credo:

Words have always been of great interest to me, and their misuse give me a sense of more than discomfort: of actual indignation, as if a friend were being mistreated. I cannot claim to be a writer, but then a music critic is not a musician, nor an art critic a painter. I am a reader, so I feel I have a right to criticize authors, journalists, editorial writers, who, to my mind, are doing violence to the English language by surrendering precious words to base uses or by substituting cheap words for valuable ones.

Ironically, one of the citations in Webster's Third for feel in the "think, believe" sense comes from Dr. Hamilton's third sentence: "I am a reader, so I feel I have a right to criticize authors".

Dr. Hamilton seems to feel a weaker emotion than indignation with respect to the spread of feel as a propositional attitude verb:

More amusing is the increasing rejection of "believe" and "think" in favor of "feel." Notice how often statesmen, journalists, commentators, tell you what the "feeling" is in the State Department, the Foreign Office, the Pentagon. Both American and English public men seem now to depend on their "feelings" about the most controversial questions. Does it show that we accept the dictum of the newer psychology that all our decisions are based on emotion, not on thought?

After giving a long list of examples going back to Shakespeare of feel = "think, believe", the MWDEU entry concludes that "This use is entirely standard", but also notes that "this sense of feel tends to be colored by the notion of emotion or intuition; it doesn't seem to mean 'think' in the sense of using powers of reasoning".

In contrast, Ms. Worthen quotes me at the end of yesterday's NYT piece:

The more common “I feel like” becomes, the less importance we may attach to its literal meaning. “I feel like the emotions have long since been mostly bleached out of ‘feel that,’ ” said Mark Liberman, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania. But when new verbal vices become old habits, their power to shape our thought does not diminish.  

We should not “feel like.” We should argue rationally, feel deeply and take full responsibility for our interaction with the world.

I certainly agree with her last sentence.  But I'll argue rationally against the idea that "when new verbal vices become old habits, their power to shape our thought does not diminish".

For example, the modern English word silly originally (as seely) meant "happy, fortunate, spiritually blessed, pious, holy".  The meaning appears to have shifted in the 16th century, towards senses that the OED glosses as "powerless" and "simple", ending up with the modern meanings of "foolish; impractical; unserious".  Should someone around 1600 have objected, "We should not speak as if piety were foolishness"? Maybe so — but it wouldn't have done any good, and by now, in any case, there's no tinge of pious left in silly.

And contrary to the MWDEU entry, I don't think there's much emotion left in "feel that".  As Dr. Hamilton observed in 1954, the feel = "think, believe" usage is not limited to kids, then or now — she cited "statesmen, journalists, commentators", and I'll quote from some of the biomedical research reports archived in the early years of MEDLINE:

1974: In general, the experts feel that development should be the main issue with the belief that population decline will inevitably follow from that.
Because of its simplicity, low operative risk, and encouraging late success rate, we feel that femorofemoral bypass grafting for late unilateral occlusion of a prosthetic bifurcation graft is the procedure of choice.
Because of the frequent coexistence of various congenital anomalies, we feel that the prevalence of congenital otologic problems associated with a first branchial cleft syndrome may be greater than has previously been suspected.

In these examples, the authors are not emoting, or presenting intuitions unsupported by evidence. Rather, they're explicitly "using powers of reasoning" to justify a conclusion, whose connection to the cited reasons is (in my opinion) expressed more strongly by feel than it would have been by think.

Curiously, the frequency of "feel that" in MEDLINE has been declining rather than increasing over the years — perhaps due to the effectiveness of reactions like those of Dr. Hamilton and Ms. Worthen?

Update — see also "Epistemological metaphors and meanings", 5/2/2016; "Feeling in the Supreme Court", 5/3/2016; ."'Feel that' has been disappearing", 5/3/2016.

Update #2 — In the Guardian, Arwa Mahdawi offers a humorously-serious response to Worthen: "Talking while female: an expert guide to the things you definitely should not say", 5/3/2016.

Some earlier posts relevant to the Kids Today theme:

"Balm in Gilead", 4/16/2004
"Kids today", 3/11/2010
"The curious specificity of speechwriters", 2/27/2011
"Kids today yesterday", 11/6/2011
"How do 'today's students' write, really?", 7/23/2012
"Psycho kids today", 11/12/2012
"Regardless whether Prudes will sneer", 12/10/2012
"Innovation, rules, and regulation", 12/28/2012
"Another 'Kids Today' conversation", 8/31/2013

And some relevant to Policing Women's Language:

"This is, like, such total crap?", 5/15/2005
"Uptalk uptick", 12/15/2005
"Angry Rises", 2/11/2006
"The Affect: Sociolinguistic speculation at the NYO", 3/22/2006
"Further thoughts on 'the affect'", 3/22/2006
"Nationality, Gender and Pitch", 11/12/2007
"Mailbag: F0 in Japanese vs. English", 11/13/2007
"Uptalk anxiety", 9/7/2008
"Vocal fry: 'creeping in' or 'still here'?", 12/12/2011
"Sexy baby vocal virus'", 8/15/2013
"Biology, sex, culture, and pitch", 8/16/2013
"Just riffing", 6/29/2015
"Un justified", 7/8/2015
"Open Letter to Terry Gross", 7/10/2015
"Fresh Air on 'policing' young women's voices", 7/23/2015
"Cameron v. Wolf", 7/27/2015
"Jeopardy gossip", 11/25/2015


  1. JS said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 11:49 am

    People complaining about "I feel like (sentence)" claim to be taking issue with "feel" in particular, but "I feel [that] (sentence)" has been used forever in the same way to no loud objections — so I feel (like) these are just fear-the-new peevers.

    [(myl) Alice Hamilton did object to "feel that" in 1954, and apparently this echoed a number of complaints in usage manuals of the mid-20th century.

    You're no doubt right that the use of like as the complementizer is strongly associated with negative reactions, since it's both informal and recently increasing in popularity. But Ms. Worthen's concern seems mainly to be with the feel = "think, believe" part of the expression, and she's certainly not the first to express this indignation.]

  2. Noscitur a sociis said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 1:30 pm

    "Feel" does carry some same emotional connotations for me as it does for Ms. Worthen – but concluding that using the word says anything about the thoughtfulness of the underlying position is itself irrational. Would we really conclude that the senior at the Universiry of Souh Carolina held thoroughly-reasoned and logical opinions if he had instead said that the "thought" Donald Trump was a doer?

  3. Jerry Friedman said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 4:28 pm

    I want to say that many of my students have a different favorite hedge.

  4. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 4:31 pm

    Per my comment in the previous thread regarding I think, my choice in the 80s to deliberately add these subjective qualifiers to my speech and writing included I feel along with I think. Quickly thereafter, in my opinion and it seems to me also increased in frequency, though less deliberately.

    In particular, I feel had previously been almost entirely absent from my idiolect — I was directly challenged on my hyper-rational affect by someone very close and influential. This was 1983, I was nineteen, she was a radical feminist physics major at Bryn Mawr and, indeed, she was for me that one figure in a young person's life who profoundly alters the course of one's intellectual development and life choices. During that time, I interrogated my intellectual habits and worldview — I was and remain strongly attracted to reason and empiricism, but I slowly realized that I had an emotional investment in denying my own subjectivity and the degree to which my reasoning was emotive and so I began to construct a set of intellectual habits and a worldview that was both rigorous and integrative, and this included recognizing, when possible, that my reasoning was primarily emotive via the use of I feel.

    Certainly it's the case that in common usage and within my own usage today this distinction is neither consistent nor remotely clear — in many cases I feel is synonymous with I think, both for most people and often for myself. But I do tend to choose, on the fly, whichever I feel (that's probably a clue right there, that I used feel) is more accurate. It's more likely that this is a recognition of an ambiguous and intuitive opinion than it is one that's more clearly emotional — but when a position or argument is self-evidently emotional, I will choose I feel.

    It seems to me that it's likely that the origins of this usage in my idiolect were much of a zeitgeist that has little relevance or meaning today. For most people most of the time, I feel is entirely synonymous with I think. But for some of us it is not, or at least sometimes the usage is distinct.

    In any case, I not only find myself irritated at Worthen's Kids Today peeve, I'm annoyed (natch, given what I just wrote) at her presumption that her preferred usage (lacking I feel) indicates more rigorously reasoned, deliberative choices … or for that matter that I feel signifies an uncertain hedging. Note that per the previous post, Trump himself rarely uses I think and I feel — yet I suspect that Worthen would not argue that Trump's preferences and choices are primarily the result of deliberate and careful rational analysis. It seems clear to me that Trump, like many people, has beliefs that are the product of strong unexamined intuitions that he expresses as simple universal truths. The millennials who say I feel are not necessarily any less reflective or any more emotionally invested.

  5. Amir said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    First I must say that I read the MEDLINE quotes differently: As I see things, they actually do not show proper strong evidence for the quoted conclusions and therefore the use of "feel" is more appropriate than the discussed alternatives.

    [(myl) OK, here's a task for you: which verb from the set {think, feel, believe, conclude} belongs in each of the following phrases from MEDLINE?

    Therefore, we ____ that this study may provide a sensitive platform for screening of DNA MTase inhibitors.
    Therefore we ____ that toxic erythema of pregnancy and herpes gestationis should continue to be classified as separate disorders.
    Therefore, we ____ that our method is suitable and effective for the full-scale analysis of multiple-locus epistatic interactions in GWAS.
    Given the positive findings, we ____ that a primary care intervention on alcohol is essential.
    Given the rarity of this disease, we ____ that a trans-global approach would be essential in order to perform such trials.
    Given the rarity of the diagnosis, we ____ that interatrial shunt should be taken into consideration when platypnea occurs in patients as a postoperative complication following lung surgery.
    Given the frequency of telephone interaction in hospital, we ____ that all medical students should receive telephone communication training.
    Given PCT's greater analytical stability, we ____ that it represents a promising complementary MTC tumor marker.
    Because of all these attractive features, we ____ that this novel hydrazide functionalized core-shell magnetic nanocomposite will shed new light on the profiling of N-glycoproteome from complex biological samples in high throughput.
    Because a postoperative irritation could not be seen, we ____ that the probe only causes a minor falsification of the intraocular pressure.
    Because the entire tumor was removed by liposuction, we ____ that the prognosis is excellent.

    In my opinion, this is an impossible task, and putting the sentences into larger contexts doesn't help.]

    In any case my main comment is that I have repeatedly heard people say that one can not argue with another's emotions. In this approach if someone _feels_ sad or feels that vaccines cause autism, these are both valid an unrefutable. In my mind people who use 'feel like' to describe their active thought processes often do so to shield their point of view from scrutiny, critique, and contradiction.

    [(myl) There's no way that the authors of the quoted MEDLINE phrases regard their conclusions as shielded from scrutiny, critique, and contradiction — regardless of whether they used the verb feel or some other way to qualifying a proposition as their conclusion.]

  6. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 5:35 pm

    I'm pretty sure that the contexts of "one can not argue with another's emotions" and feel used to describe one's thought processes are mostly distinct from each other. Which is to say that "I feel hurt because…" or "I am angry…" is a distinct usage from, say, "I feel like that is not a good decision".

  7. Viseguy said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 6:02 pm

    I feel you, Prof. Liberman.

  8. David L said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 6:38 pm

    I trow, sir, that though language ever change, the sentiments beneath differ little from their forebears.

  9. Joseph C. Fineman said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 8:30 pm

    Jacques Barzun, in _The House of Intellect_ (1959), called it "shuffling" and opined that its purpose was refusal to take responsibility for one's opinions:
    "…in the common round of committee meetings, it is necessary to differ, but also impossible. Manners therefore decree that one shall say: 'I may be all wrong, but –';…. The lexicon of pussyfooting is familiar. On its title page should appear the motto: 'Never say, "I think," which is obsolete; always say "I feel," as in, "I feel that the Treasurer has been dipping into the till"; then if you are wrong, you haven't said anything.' Though the shuffling vocabulary is all hypocrisy, it is a routine hypocrisy concealing a desperate wish to placate…."

  10. Stephen said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 8:38 pm

    Somehow, I have great difficulty believing this:

    "in my own classes, male students begin almost every statement with 'I feel like.'”

    Does the professor have any actual, you know, data to back up this assertion?

    (She should come teach at the college where I'm an adjunct. My students basically never begin sentences that way.)

  11. Gregory Kusnick said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 8:57 pm

    My own feeling (if I may call it that) is that I think, I feel, and I want to say are not entirely interchangeable.

    I think that X implies that I find the case for X intellectually defensible, but am not perhaps fully committed to it.

    I feel that X says something stronger, as Mark suggests. It says that I've internalized the argument for X; I believe it in my gut as well as in my head.

    I want to say X is in some sense the converse of I think: something in me inclines toward X, but I don't have a logical argument to muster in its favor.

  12. hector said,

    May 1, 2016 @ 11:32 pm

    "a desperate wish to placate" — the more common desperation in committee meetings is the wish that the interminable proceedings come to an end. Keeping one's mouth shut or nodding in agreement are as often as not expressions of an often vain hope that acquiescence will speed things up.

  13. Rubrick said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 12:49 am

    "…by now, in any case, there's no tinge of pious left in silly."

    Whereas the proportion of silly in pious has been increasing.

  14. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 2:36 am

    As well as underestimating the amount of intellect conveyed by feel that, people may be overestimating the amount conveyed by think that . Surely the latter does not always imply 'become rationally convinced by evidence that', and it too is sometimes used as a 'hedge'.

    There must be semantic and pragmatic differences between the two phrases, but they're not transparent.

    [(myl) Exactly.]

  15. Beth Lerman said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 5:45 am

    It's interesting that Worthen suggests that "I feel like…" is invoked to prevent the possiblity of reproach. I feel like* I most frequently see it used to indicate a statement is somewhat tentative. [*Like here, for example. I stated it like this to acknowledge that I could be selectively remembering its most common use scenarios, but it is definitely the one that first springs to my mind.]

    I think it's notable that the sample statements Worthen provides to make her point all involve election politics–an area where gut feeling has been demonstrated to play a substantial role in decision making–and this narrow sample set makes it easier to conflate two distinct meanings of "feel".

    "Feel," when used in relation to feelings or emotions, has a very different meaning than when used as a synonym for "believe" or "think" in the context of "I feel that"/"I feel like…". In reference to emotions, what Worthen says is correct: emotions are subjective and are not up for debate or verification. But "I feel like…" is not used to preface an emotion; structurally it has to be followed by a statement of fact. "I feel that angry and sad," vs. "I feel like that guy really hates me". From the fact that the first statement doesn't even make grammatical sense, it's clear that "I feel that" does not have the same function as "I feel." The latter sentence does make grammatical sense, but it is not an expression of emotion. Sure, it is a statement that may elicit some emotion, but the sentence itself is a statement of fact and subject to doubt and verification.

    It's possible that "I feel like"/"I feel that" has come into more frequent use, but even if this is the case, Worthen's conjectures about what that indicates about intellectual rigor don't seem to follow.

  16. Ray said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 7:11 am

    my problem with "I feel like" is the "like" part. My ears want to hear "I feel as if" — and maybe it's that "if" that's at the bottom of (the common denominator for) "think" vs "feel": "think" can signal one kind of uncertainty, a definite doubting of one's senses in the face of absolute fact ("Is it red? I'm not sure if it is; I think so.") while "feel" feels more conditional about even having doubt and uncertainty, because the fact itself may be dubious ("Is it red? I feel as if it could be; I feel like it should be.")

  17. Bean said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 7:33 am

    @myl: regarding all those cases you proposed inside of @Amir's post, if I were reviewing the paper I would suggest "conclude". I hate it when people get wishy-washy in science papers: have the guts to use "conclude" if your evidence supports it. However "feel" reads pretty standard-ly in those spots too.

  18. Eric said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 9:10 am

    I remember my college friends and I (about two-thirds women) began self-consciously noticing we started nearly every sentence with "I feel like." This was around 2010 and we were 19 or 20. We of course only meant it in the "think; believe" sense. I don't remember why we noticed it, but we all agreed that we said it way more than before college. It's possible that there's something about college or maybe just a liberal education that quickly reinforced hedging strategies in our speech, or maybe it was just the youthful linguistic environment. In any case, we definitely noticed it ourselves as linguistic laypeople, and we went on to become hyper-aware of it in our classes and among our peers.

    The fact that we all became sensitive to it suggests to me that there was an actual change in our speech…but to what extent I can't say.

  19. Ralph J Hickok said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 9:42 am

    There's been quite a bit of recent research in neuroscience showing that emotion plays an integral role in the decision-making process. It seems to have started with Antonio Damasio's study of people whose brains had been damaged in such a way as to essentially deprive them of any emotional response. Those people were totally unable to make decisions.

    Here is a quote from the introduction to Damasio's 1994 book, "Descartes' Error":

    "I began writing this book to propose that reason may not be as pure as most of us think it is or wish it were, that emotions and feelings may not be intruders in the bastion of reason at all: they may be enmeshed in its networks, for worse and for better. The strategies of human reason probably did not develop, in either evolution or any single individual, without the guiding force of the mechanisms of biological regulation, of which emotion and feeling are notable expressions. Moreover, even after reasoning strategies become established in the formative years, their effective deployment probably depends, to a considerable extent, on a continued ability to experience feelings.

    "This is not to deny that emotions and feelings can cause havoc in the processes of reasoning under certain circumstances. Traditional wisdom has told us that they can, and recent investigations of the normal reasoning process also reveal the potentially harmful influence of emotional biases. It is thus even more surprising and novel that the absence of emotion and feeling is no less damaging, no less capable of compromising the rationality that makes us distinctively human and allows us to decide in consonance with a sense of personal future, social convention, and moral principle.

    "Nor is this to say that when feelings have a positive action they do the deciding for us; or that we are not rational beings. I suggest only that certain aspects of the process of emotion and feeling are indispensable for rationality. At their best, feelings point us in the proper direction, take us to the appropriate place in a decision-making space, where we may put the instruments of logic to good use. We are faced by uncertainty when we have to make a moral judgment, decide on the course of a personal relationship, choose some means to prevent our being penniless in old age, or plan for the life that lies ahead. Emotion and feeling, along with the covert physiological machinery underlying them, assist us with the daunting task of predicting an uncertain future and planning our actions accordingly."

    I'm not suggesting that these people who say "I feel like" instead of "I think that" are all followers of Damasio, but they may be expressing their thought processes more accurately than they realize.

  20. Pigeon Hello said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 9:59 am

    This seems to be a case where word choice gets conflated with a more abstract and independent cognitive-linguistic issue by ignoring the other degrees of freedom the speaker has. It is probably the case that "I feel" sounds hedgier than "I know" in isolation, but of the two sentences

    1) "I know that it may be that in a certain sense the author is being less than candid"
    2) "I feel like the author is full of shit"

    the first one hedges much more. So it could easily be that students are using "I feel" more than "I think" but the amount of hedging remains constant.

    And I think there is good reason to think the amount of hedging is constant. Students do not hedge because of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, they hedge because they want to say impressive things but don't want to be caught as wrong. This naturally leads to making big but hedged statements, i.e. all of my undergraduate essays.

    This is a bad habit for most arenas of discourse, and should be brought under control, but it has relatively little to do with the phrase "I feel like".

  21. Bill S. said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 12:47 pm

    The Google N-gram results for "I feel like" and "I feel that" are fairly dramatic, although (of course) a bunch of the "I feel like"-s are going to be examples of different constructions ("I feel like having a sandwich"). The frequencies of the two have rapidly converged since 1980.

    [(myl) A better pattern would compare "feel that _PRON_" with "feel like _PRON_".]

  22. Michael Straight said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

    I feel like many people who introduce statements with this kind of hedging aren't necessarily expressing a lack of confidence in what they have to say but rather saying something like, "I'll tell you my opinion, but that's not an invitation for you to try to start a tiresome pointless debate with me about it."

  23. David L said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 1:41 pm

    We feel like these truths are self-evident…

    I just felt like throwing that in there.

  24. BZ said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 2:53 pm

    I think the difference between "silly" and "feel like" is that "silly" is a single word with no other relevant extant meaning and no visible hint to its etymology. On the other hand, the word "feel" retains the relevant meaning that can color the interpretation of "feel like". Not to mention that you can also "feel like" doing something, which is very much a statement of emotion and not belief.

    Not to mention, all of these hedges make no logical sense anyway. One can assume that, unless otherwise stated, someone's statement reflects what they feel/think/believe. Of course language doesn't always follow logic.

  25. chris said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 6:54 pm

    For example, the modern English word silly originally (as seely) meant "happy, fortunate, spiritually blessed, pious, holy".

    For example, some concepts of the Fair Folk divide them into a Silly and an Unsilly Court. Except nobody uses the modern spelling for *that* usage, because it would look silly. And not in a happy or fortunate way.

    One can assume that, unless otherwise stated, someone's statement reflects what they feel/think/believe.

    True, but drawing attention to that fact or attempting to obscure it (or being oblivious to it in oneself?) is nonetheless important. See, for example, Keith M Ellis's comment at 4:31 (particularly the point at the end about Trump).

  26. Jeff W said,

    May 2, 2016 @ 11:33 pm

    I agree with Gregory Kusnick on this

    I think, I feel, and I want to say are not entirely interchangeable.

    although I might use them differently:

    I think X is, for me, a statement of provisionality regarding X—“Here are my thoughts about X but they might change with more information.”

    I feel like X is, for me, not necessarily stronger (or weaker) but more intuitive or more inchoate—I can’t give reasons (yet) for what I am saying about X.

    I want to say X is, for me, more preliminary than I think X—it’s sort of like “I would say X but at this point I am not prepared to do even that.”

  27. Keith M Ellis said,

    May 3, 2016 @ 12:50 am

    True, but drawing attention to that fact or attempting to obscure it (or being oblivious to it in oneself?) is nonetheless important. See, for example, Keith M Ellis's comment at 4:31 (particularly the point at the end about Trump)."

    Yes, and I was struck by the response to my comment in the other thread where someone first argued exactly as BZ does — that these qualifications are unnecessary because it's implicit that it's opinion — and then goes on to describe in a further three paragraphs how he coaches witnesses to avoid these constructions on the stand precisely because even opposing counsel are much more likely to accept simple assertions of truth as truth and not opinion.

    It's not a concidence — and this speaks to the argument that statements of opinion are always self-evidently statements of opinion — that the most often cited reason for why this usage should be eliminated is because it makes arguments less persuasive. That's clearly because at some level we instinctively confuse unqualified assertions for truth and not as statements of subjective opinion.

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