If You Will, I Will?

Marcy Sheiner asked a question about an English expression “if you will” several weeks ago. So Marcy, this post is for you.

Here’s Marcy’s comment/question/pet peeve.

Marcy Sheiner says:
July 14, 2010 at 12:09 pm
This is a pet peeve rather than a question, but maybe you can tell me if there is ever a sane reason to use the phrase “if you will.” I’ve noticed it’s beoming most trendy, in speech more than writing, but sill. And what on earth does it mean?????

I have been hearing – and reading – this phrase used for as long as I can remember and didn’t really think much about it. Since Marcy brought it up, though, I thought about it a little bit and did some research as well.

From what I understand of the phrase, it is a way of making a concession. Using “if you will” (usually at the end of your statement) is akin to saying “if you wish to do so” or “if you want”.

Several forums provide the same explanation. Take a look at these examples:

He wasn’t a very honest person, a liar if you will. – Idioms

Think, if you will, about …. – Yahoo Answers

Basically, the phrase is used when you want to state something but are not totally committing yourself to a position. It seems that the phrase is an informally accepted, but it does make some people cringe.

Personally, I don’t mind reading/hearing/using it, as long as it’s not excessive. How about you? What do you think about this phrase?





2 responses
  1. MarcyS Avatar

    Thank you for answering my question, and for the explanation. Now I’ll cringe even more when I hear it, knowing it means the speaker is not “totally committed” to whatever they’re saying! But seriously, what an awful phrase to use, what an awful way to speak. I must’ve sensed this was the meaning, because it sounded to me so wishy-washy. And it IS wishy-washy.

    Once again, thank you for investigating!

  2. Susan Gunelius Avatar

    I think in speech “if you will” has taken on a sarcastic connotation as if the speaker conveys his thoughts with a raised eyebrow. For example, if I were describing an obese cat without actually saying, “That cat is so fat!” I could say, “That cat is well-fed, a snacking expert, if you will.” That’s not a great example, but I hear that usage a lot in conversation, and it comes off as having an amusing tone. However, when the phrase is used in an effort to sound more intelligent or formal, it misses the mark and is passed its time.

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