"With all due respect"

« previous post | next post »

If someone prefaces a sentence by saying "with all due respect", it's a sign that they are likely to unleash something negative or critical, and sometimes quite vulgar and highly disrespectful.  The result, then, is to intensify, rather than to mitigate, their criticism.

Paul Gogarty, a member of Ireland's Green Party, unloaded some fairly colourful language on Labour Party member Emmet Stagg during a debate using this term.

"With all due respect and in the most unparliamentary language, f**k you Deputy Stagg, f**k you…". He then added, "I apologize now for my use of unparliamentary language."


One wonders, then, what the point of using this disingenuous phrase is.

In 2008, the Oxford dictionary compiled a list of the most irritating phrases in the English language, the phrase with all due respect came in as the fifth most irritating phrase in the English language. Perhaps because of its changing function from a phrase meant to mitigate hard feelings to a phrase that allows a subtle disrespect, cloaked in courtesy.


It would seem to me that "with all due respect" has been so tarnished by satirical use that it would be better to avoid it altogether.

In The Discourse of Blogs and Wikis (pp. 99-100), Greg Myers discusses phrases like "with all due respect" under the rubric of "stylistic stance markers", along with "I humbly suggest…", "seriously", "honestly", "frankly", "if I may put it like that", and smileys.  He ends that section by quoting from Language Log:

With all due respect, this sounds like a crippling way to learn an Asian language (i.e. a character-based language).


Later, the same commenter / critic says, "I would vehemently disagree".  That's pretty strong language, especially for a civil debate on a subject where reasonable people may be expected to have different opinions.  It might be a good idea to prune away all the harsh, sarcastic invective before posting our remarks.



"In a good way" (3/31/09) — extensive discussion of "with all due respect" in the comments


  1. Michael Sullivan said,

    December 20, 2019 @ 9:26 pm

    These are polite-sounding insults similar to "bless his heart."

  2. A P said,

    December 20, 2019 @ 11:44 pm

    All ten items from the 2008 Oxford list:


    I'd also add "no offense, but" to the same category.

  3. Philip Taylor said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 3:50 am

    I am one who uses "with all due respect" from time to time, but I don't perceive it as being as negative as this article would suggest. I typically use it when I wish to disagree with someone, but at the same time to acknowledge that (a) they have every right to their opinion, and (b) that their qualifications, reputation, eminence, etc., suggest they may well be better informed in the matter than I. Another phrase which I might use in a similar context is "I beg to differ", which for me carries the first connotation without necessarily also carrying the second.

  4. Ken said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 8:42 am

    While acknowledging Philip Taylor's point that it can be used in a positive sense…. oops, I think I found another.

    To me, the negative sense has a connotation of "this is exactly as much respect as you deserve."

  5. bks said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 9:56 am

    "That being said … " (I will now say the opposite).

  6. Miles Archer said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 11:13 am

    Or, the southern US version, bless your heart.

  7. Bloix said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 12:21 pm

    There's nothing wrong with stock phrases that allow a speaker to express disagreement while acknowledging that the views of the person spoken to must be taken seriously.
    The problem with "with all due respect" is the stinger in the word "due." The unavoidable inference is that the amount of respect that is due, in the speaker's opinion, is zero.
    "With respect," by comparison, is genuinely respectful. And it's shorter.

  8. Leo said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 12:36 pm

    @Bloix – when a phrase becomes stock, arguably people stop paying attention to its logical implications. I can well imagine someone using 'with respect' in just the same cynical way as 'with all due respect', without the get-out clause of letting the listener infer how much respect is 'due'.

    The knowingly dishonest claim to offer 'respect' reminds me of Fintan O'Toole's description of the 'camp' style in modern discourse, where the speaker makes a claim that draws attention to its own implausibility iin order to make the audience complicit in their choice to pay heed to an obvious liar. His exemplary case is currently the occupier of the highest political office in the UK.

  9. NotAnotherSteve said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 6:22 pm

    Many years ago, JB Priestly gave a talk at my university. In the following discussion, a participant used the locution “With respect Mr Priestly”. His reply was prefaced with “With great respect, Dr X” Knockout!

  10. AntC said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 6:27 pm

    In at least some usages, there's a distinction between the respect due to some office vs the inappropriate behaviour of some incumbent in that office. I need hardly quote current examples.

    Indeed Gogarty seems to be acknowledging that 'Deputy' Stagg is due some respect as a parliamentarian, but has failed to earn it, in Gogarty's opinion.

    'Respect' in English is rather ambivalent between something the respecters give vs something the respected earns vs something that inheres in an institution.

  11. Julian said,

    December 21, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

    'I would vehemently disagree' is an odd expression because 'would' is itself a polite softener, so 'would' and 'vehemently' are pulling in opposite directions.

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    December 22, 2019 @ 4:29 am

    Upon further reflection (but in the absence of a corpus analysis of past messages/posts/etc), I think that I would actually be more inclined to write "with the greatest respect" rather than "with all due respect" — the latter, upon reflection, does seem to be rather mealy-mouthed,

  13. Victor Mair said,

    December 22, 2019 @ 7:33 am

    "with the greatest respect"

    About twenty years ago, I made a film with a British crew. One of their favorite expressions was "over the top".

  14. rosie said,

    December 23, 2019 @ 2:51 am

    'If someone prefaces a sentence by saying "with all due respect", it's a sign that they are likely to unleash something negative or critical, and sometimes quite vulgar and highly disrespectful.' Really? What words are appropriate to describe such an utterance should be determined by judging every such utterance separately. So, if critics' opinion about such a phrase is a generalisation that does not address any specific use of that phrase, then it can't contain any such judgement; it is the expression of mere prejudice.

    Such critics are themselves doing something similar to what they object to: they claim that those who use such phrases pretend to be polite but are in fact rude; but the critics vent this prejudice while pretending to give considered judgement.

    With respect to Bloix — and I know I'm on thin ice when I say that — IME such criticism is not targeted at the specific phrase "with all due respect". It is not as accurate or discriminating as that. Similar phrases such as "with all respect" and "with respect" also fall victim. Even saying "but" runs the risk of the riposte "there's always a 'but'".

  15. Philip Anderson said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 10:04 am

    Although the usage has changed, it hasn’t necessarily changed to the same extent for all speakers, and it isn’t unusual for older speakers (such as Philip Taylor) to retain the original meaning. I agree that it is often an introduction to something more offensive, but I wouldn’t assume that.

  16. Andrew Usher said,

    December 25, 2019 @ 11:43 am

    Even in Philip Taylor's meaning – which I certainly consider the normal one – the phrase introduces something that may offend the listener, and acknowledges that fact. So using it to preface a deliberate insult is not really that big a step – remembering that the line between fair criticism and abuse is not generally clear to everyone.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

RSS feed for comments on this post