Monday, January 25, 2010

Plain English: I'm Just Sayin...

“I’m just sayin’ . . .” has become a stock phrase on the blogs and a kind of official sign-off on Twitter. I’ve had several questions from readers, including “What does it mean?” and “Where does it come from.”

“I’m just sayin’ . . .” is related to the phrase “all’s I’m saying.” The phrases are used to convey innuendo and opinion which is not supported by fact or eyewitnesses. It’s a subtle way of disagreeing with what someone else has said. The phrase sends the message that the person making an editorial comment doesn’t want to be held responsible for the consequences or the proof to support his opinion. Here are some examples of how the phrase is used:

Office workers are gossiping about a colleague. One says, “He left his wedding ring at home last night, I’m just sayin’.” (Translation: The co-workers think the man is cheating on his wife.)

“If you paint your house purple, people are going to think you’re weird, I’m just sayin’ . . .”
(Translation: If you paint your house purple, everyone including me will think you’re nuts.)

“I’m not sure if those guys smoke dope, but they do seem to giggle a lot after lunch, I’m just
sayin’ . . .” (Translation: Those guys are doing drugs on their lunch hour.)

The origin of “I’m just sayin’” is not clear, but most paths trace it back to Yiddish humor. “I’m just saying” was the way some Jewish vaudevillians ended a joke. The phrase was popularized by two comedians in the 1980s: Paul Reiser and Eddie Murphy.

An example of Reiser’s use of the phrase: “I’m not saying you’re fat, I’m just sayin’. I don’t think it or even mean it, I’m just sayin’ it.” Eddie Murphy’s routine substituted ugly for fat.

The Simpsons used the phrase in an episode that involved a disappointing family road trip. Homer says, “This never would have happened if we’d gone to Macon, Georgia.” When the family members give him the stare, he says, “I’m just sayin’, is all.”

An episode of Seinfeld analyzes “I’m just sayin’” in the same way the series put the phrase “yada, yada, yada” under the microscope. Jerry Seinfeld’s point with “I’m just sayin’” is that you can say just about anything negative or critical to another person as long as you follow it with “I’m just sayin’ . . .” It’s similar to Seinfeld’s tagline “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

“I’m just sayin’ . . .” has even been elevated into dialogue in the 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning play Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. The play tells the story of grieving family members’ attempts to console each other. When they try to comfort each other, all they can say are words that fall flat because great sorrow is beyond words. The author showcases some of the most meaningless language that we as Americans use awkwardly in attempts at serious conversation. The characters utter clichés like “I feel your pain,” then to indicate that what they’ve said is a cliché, they add “I’m just sayin’ . . .” At the Broadway premiere of Rabbit Hole, the audience wept.

Now that “I’m just sayin’ . . .” has made the rounds of stand-up comedy, prime time TV, and literature it’s last life as a catchphrase is in text-messaging. There’s something about American culture that detests conformity. The more popular a phrase becomes, the more we want to move on to the next catchphrase. I predict that “I’m just sayin’ . . .” will bite the dust soon as more and more Americans realize that using it classifies them as inarticulate and (I’m just sayin’) they will switch to a new cliché.

Image copyright 1987 Business Week


Mary Jane McKinney is the creator and owner of LLC, publisher of grammar, style, and proofreading exercises that use sentences from literature. She is a former high school English teacher and dedicated grammarian whose column Plain English appears in several Texas newspapers. LLC, P.O. Box 299, Christoval, TX 76935,, 325-896-2479,


Susie HK said...

Finally I better understand this phrase...and I can't wait till it bites the dust! Just sayin'

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