In all honesty

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In all honesty

Post by Stevenloan » Fri Apr 24, 2020 10:07 am

Hi guys! According to an online dictionary, the phrase “in all honesty” means “used when telling someone what you really think, especially when it may be something that they do not want to hear”. Is it perfectly acceptable to use it in a positive way below?

“In all honesty, you are the nicest and most talented employee in this company.”

Thanks a lot!

StevenLoan
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Re: In all honesty

Post by Phil White » Fri Apr 24, 2020 3:27 pm

Very good question, Steven. And not entirely easy to answer.

The short answer is yes. You can use the phrase without a negative undertone.

The longer answer is rather more complicated. We tend to use "in all honesty" when we know that what we want to say will be difficult for the hearer, and we are suggesting that it is difficult for us as well. One such situation is of the type the dictionary you consulted suggests. Imagine that I (Phil) am talking to a friend (Harry) about Harry's best friend Dick:

Harry: "Dick was telling me that he has to work this weekend to sort out the mess his department made of that big contract."
Phil: "In all honesty, it was Dick who messed up the contract, so I don't have a great deal of sympathy."

In that example I am going to say something that I know that Harry will not like, because Dick is his best friend, so I am signalling that I know that what I am about to say will upset him a little.

Something similar is going on in your example: “In all honesty, you are the nicest and most talented employee in this company.”
I know that saying that will embarrass the person I am talking to, so I am signalling that I understand that he will be embarrassed, but that I really mean what I say.

I shall think about this one a little longer and see whether I can generalize the way in which this phrase works!

This really is a lovely example of how some turns of phrase carry so much more meaning than the surface semantics.
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Re: In all honesty

Post by trolley » Fri Apr 24, 2020 5:14 pm

Yes, Steve, a good question indeed. Phil has covered it pretty well but I'd like to expand on another of the subtleties.
"We tend to use "in all honesty" when we know that what we want to say will be difficult for the user..."
It may not just be difficult because the listener could find it upsetting. It might be difficult for the listener to believe. It is a way to emphasize the speaker's sincerity in what they are about to say, despite how it may appear.
"in all honesty, Your Honour, I didn't even realize I had slipped that watch into my pocket"
or
"in all honesty, I have no idea what you are talking about"
I've noticed younger people prefacing a statement with "I'm not gonna lie...." quite a bit recently. Similar to "truth be told" (a pet-peeve of mine) I immediately think "here comes a lie" when I hear that. I don't usually start out thinking someone is about to lie to me so when they open with that statement, it rings a little bell in my head.
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Re: In all honesty

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Apr 24, 2020 7:56 pm

This discussion reminds me of a standalone phrase that is used in a passive-aggressive gaslighting sort of way, "Just saying!" (or its more folksy slight contraction, "Just sayin'!", immediately after the delivery of a derogatory or negative comment.

It's a way of telling someone that you have just insulted them for their own good and they should therefore not take it amiss, because your intention was pure.

I see it being used a lot on social media, where we are all very busy trying to educate other people into seeing things from our own point of view, whether they like it or not. :lol:
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Re: In all honesty

Post by Phil White » Fri Apr 24, 2020 8:31 pm

Yes, Trolley, "I ain't gonna lie" has also become widespread this side of the pond. It seems to me that it's used to preface something that the speaker knows is pretty outrageous and socially unacceptable: "I ain't gonna lie; I don't trust pikeys".

And yes, Erik. "Just sayin'..." is a really unpleasant one. It's used like a get-out-of-jail card when you say something particularly offensive. I really am pleased that I don't frequent any social media sites and rarely descend to the bowels of the comment sections of blogs and news articles. I don't think my computer would survive intact.
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Re: In all honesty

Post by Stevenloan » Sat Apr 25, 2020 11:37 am

Phil White, trolley and Erik : Thank you all so much for your answers. They really help.

StevenLoan
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