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"I’m Just Saying!!!!" Oh Yeah... What Exactly?

Have you noticed recently how the saying “I’m just saying” has propagated throughout pop culture communication? It was actually just a few months ago that an extremely lovely woman friend of mine first said it to me in a way that made me focus on it. Since then, I hear it everywhere. Even on my way home today from Burlington, Vermont I heard hip-hop artist The Dream in his song “Love King” give this advice to a woman he was interested in: “N….a” keep playin, change where you layin, I’m just saying.” While the advice seems admirable, it does appear to benefit him to give it, so once again there is more weight to the "I'm just saying," than meets the eye. Someone answer this for me: has this saying been around for years and I just didn’t notice it, or did it actually just expand throughout our vernacular?

What does it really mean? Does it give people a pass to say anything they want to say? Is it similar to “I’m just joking?” Hmmm? Well, when people say I’m just joking, it often is following an insensitive statement that they aimed at someone and they are trying to mitigate the extent of the damage by rationalizing it away as meaningless. Could it be that these two statements are something akin to first cousins, or even siblings?

So what type of statement is “I’m just saying” punctuating?

I heard a woman tell another woman that she saw her man whispering in another woman’s ear, and punctuated telling on him with “I’m just saying.”

My daughter recently criticized my attire as not effectively matching with “I’m just saying.”

An educator I know recently criticized both a school superintendent and principal’s seeming indifference to the struggles of the underrepresented students they are supposed to care about with an “I’m just saying.” (Fortunately these two administrators were from two different districts, and yes, I'm just saying.)

I was watching a news show and thought I heard one of the contributors take a pot shot at the Tea Parties, saying something about a hidden agenda, then attempting to walk away from it with an “I’m just saying.”

And I think it was on MSNBC the other night that I heard wannabe congressman and so-called politician Ben Quayle (son of the seldom decried best Vice President ever) declaring that President Obama was the worst president in U.S. history, something that the extremely rationale, never over the top congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has also articulated. I actually couldn’t believe that neither of them accentuated their claims with an “I’m just saying.” I mean, really, though on some level, I’m just saying…

Interestingly enough, is it truly “just” to say “I’m just saying,” somehow exonerating oneself from the weight of owning a statement that arguably is quite unjust?

So, what is it that she and he, you and I, all of us are “just saying?”


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I believe that "I'm just saying," or "I'm just joking," are defense mechanisms to one's insecurities found in their afterthought. Whether it is defending oneself against a statement made just a moment ago, or a comment made months ago. I believe in our fast paced, impatient, often ignorant world, we frequently forget to think before we speak. For some, the afterthought can cause anxiety, or regret about what was said and the easiest way to defend it when brought to attention is, "I'm just saying," or "I'm just joking."

*** Krystle, I agree that the aftermath of the not-well-considered forethought is a prefaced afterthought. I think people should call people on their "I'm just joking" and "I'm just saying" by asking them exactly what it is they are joking or saying. *** -- J.W.

This phrase takes on different meanings to different people in a variety of contexts, depending on what was said before the person says, "I'm just saying," as well as the intent of the sayer.

It might mean: I've just said something I shouldn't have said and realize I shouldn't have said it but don't really feel like taking any action to own my words or retract them, so I will just say "I'm just saying..." and I'm off the hook.

"I'm just saying..." might also be a way of expressing to someone, "That's just my opinion and you can interpret the information as you like."

Lately, it seems like it is being said a lot, and while I can imagine some people could see it as potentially problematic, I also see people just having fun with language, using it in a playful, joking way.

However, if someone says, "I'm just saying," and you don't challenge them to elaborate or "break it down," (as a really good looking guy I know often says) then you might as well say, "I'm just hearing."

*** Elise, I agree with your stating that "I'm just saying" is context driven and within that context intent must be considered. However, I don't think in the case of people "just saying" whatever they want that they shouldn't be made to "own" as you say, what they said. Far too often people "just say" the first thing that comes into their minds, the hell with the consequences. And if the person "just saying" is "just playing" then at some point, whether she/he realizes it, she/he may be "just paying" for her/his inconsiderateness. *** -- J.W.

Sorry son, "I'm just saying," has been around for quite sometime and you probably did not notice it because you were focused on earning your doctorate hat.

*** Mom, possibly it was my pursuit of other more pressing matters that kept "I'm just saying" unsaid or left dead in my head. But I don't recall ever hearing you or any other adults in your crew say it when I was a child. Maybe it hasn't been around as long as you remember. Or maybe people back in the day were "just saying" so often, that in the end no one was actually saying much! *** -- J. W.

I don't think there is anything new about this expression. At least, I seem to recall hearing it quite a while ago. It's been part of the Urban Dictionary since 2005, at least, and has some interesting usages discussed but in general they are all some version of disavowing responsibility for a statement that is either ignorant, offensive, or otherwise controversial.

My question is what is better: to avoid saying things that are offensive or controversial (ignorance is hard to avoid sometimes...) out of fear, or to have a way to diffuse the responsibility for the statement so the conversation still takes place?

*** Daniel, it is nice knowing when the Urban Dictionary canonized the phrase. Thanks for that bit of research. Now, to answer your question, I think it is better for the speaker to diffuse responsibility so as to allow the conversation to ensue. On the other hand though, somethings are very difficult to diffuse and even attempts at diffusing them can be like attempts at diffusing a bomb, it always has the potential of blowing up in your face. For example, I recall hearing about a faculty member at SUNY Plattsburgh who enjoyed telling people that I didn't have my doctorate (prior to my obtaining it) when my name came up in conversation around her. She essentially was "just saying" but everyone around her knew that what she was actually doing was "just hating." *** -- J.W.

Hey JW,

“I’m just saying” that this saying has been going on for at least as long as I can remember. I am talking way back to my first memories as a child. The only difference from the saying now and back from when I remember hearing it are the words. When it was first tossed around in my youth it was “no offense, but…” and it now seems to have evolved into “I’m just saying”. It was a saying you would pre-position before an insult you were about to drop about someone and usually do it directly in front of their face. Yet somehow, this saying was supposed to make it okay that you just had something negative to say about the person you are talking to. It is a saying that has always been almost comical to me. When I really think about the thing we say when we use these sayings, it’s sounds like something that would be in a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up routine (and may have been already though I don’t remember watching it). It is sometimes depressing to think we do things like this. I mean think about it, really!

The part about all of this and these sayings that I don’t understand is when we as a society made it seem like it is okay to insult someone to their face, with just the use of these sayings. When did we decide that it’s fine to do this? It’s almost a gangster like thing to do when you think about it. We say these sayings with almost a smile on our faces thinking that we have been alleviated of all social responsibility when it comes to insulting others if we just throw in one of these two phrases. Did we always do this as a society? Are we as Americans, the only society that does this?

I think a lot of us don’t even realize anymore that we are insulting someone as these phrases, and other ones like it, flow so smoothly right out of our mouths without even thinking about what we are saying. For me, these sayings have been around a long time. However, the amount of times I hear them used, in life, in entertainment and out of my own mouth seems to have increased significantly in the last few years. Are we losing our compassion for others or has it always been this way? I wish I had an answer for this and even more, a solution. At least for now I can express my concern with those that I converse with that often use these sayings and more importantly take a little more time in this fast paced society we live in to think about what I am saying when I interact with others.

*** Sbbutkcin, I wonder if you recall the Doyle Hargraves character from Sling Blade, who framed many of asinine statements with "I'm just teasing. I must admit I doubt if we are the only country in the world that has an inconsiderately applied buffer available for that moment when it's totally about the one "just saying." *** -- J.W.

Its funny that you wrote about this. Every time I hear this phrase I picture Lady Macbeth trying to wash the blood off her hands in vain. Generally people try to avoid responsibility in whatever way possible, but if we ask them to break it down for us they wouldn't be able to. "Why can't you speak your mind outright, sans disclaimer?" Its because on some level they know they shouldn't say it, but they choose to disregard the statement's impact anyway

"I'm just sayin'," is irony in its most intentional overt suit - sarcasm.
When in actuality the speaker is not "sayin'" it to the subject of the comment at all.
Very similar to the more familiar, "with all due respect" -- with out even an ounce of respect!

Some people in our culture are obsessed with remaining neutral on almost everything. If people don't agree with our thoughts or criticisms regarding other people or ideas our manufactured neutrality is threatened. These three words "I'm just sayin'" deflects attention away from the thoughts/criticisms that make us different and socially undesirable.

Growing up in a urban neighborhood my whole life, the phrase "I'm just saying" has always been in my vocabulary. I've never thought of what it means or implies until today. In my crew we say "I'm just saying" all the time. To me the phrase adds emphasize on a statement that was just said. The phrase also be used to sugarcoat a statement that may have been rude or disrespectful.

The phrase "lol (laugh put loud)" is similar to "I'm just saying" in some ways. People can be communicating via messaging, and one person can write something slightly disrespectful or rude and follow it with "lol" as if they were joking.

Seems like "I'm just saying" is multi layered and can mean different things to different people.

I had/have to think back to conversations, dialogues, songs etc to date back when i actually began hearing this said phrase. Yeah!!! I am still thinking, and more than likely will still be thinking, when I put down my pen (or lay off the keyboard). People no longer have the ability or intelligence to defend their stance and therefore need to remove themselves from the STATEMENT THEY make. (Think Terms like NO HOMO, JUST JOKING, NO OFFENSE etc) People need to start calling folks out on their bluffs, I think the fear of having an intelligent, legitimate conversation of the issue at hand have helped such phrases flourish…..on that note, I am just saying…..

The phrase, “I'm just saying”, may be a scapegoat for one who would not like his or her opinion to be challenged. It seems to have the same feel as the phrase, “In my opinion..” It almost could be ironic in the way that it seems to discourage people from furthering a conversation, because it appears to imply a basic level of self-awareness that is widely known, yet rarely discussed. While “I'm just saying” may imply the lack of desire to have one's opinion questioned, I believe that an acknowledgment that everyone has a different perspective, and people filter information in different ways, is important to consider. Often, it goes without saying, “Yes, that is your opinion. You are saying that.” Whatever one may call it: a 'gloss', 'reality-tunnel', belief-system, etc., it may be important to remember that “every perception is gamble” and people may benefit from recognizing that somebody else's interpretation might be able to tell them something interesting about our world.

However, I feel as if a lack of communication is often created between people who assume they are making the same interpretations, and, if one doesn't immediately know how to express their opinion so another person can understand it in the same way, then phrases like, “I'm just saying” become a common part of our vocabulary. Also, our attempts to communicate our own perceptions to others, while using a vocabulary with polarizing 'either-or' terms such as “is”, may also contribute to the frustrations we may find ourselves in. Perhaps, it will eventually be necessary for a re-orientation or re-structuring of our language that could be capable of better adapting to our changing ideas, environment, and world as a whole. I hope I'm not just making noise, and actually 'saying' something.

"I'm just joking" or "I'm J-K-ing" as my son often says does NOT mean the same thing as "I'm just sayin'"

The former is a way of trying to get oneself off the hook for verbalizing something completely inappropriate. The later is a way of saying "I'm just telling the truth without necessarily drawing conclusions about my observations so don't judge me" Ironically, often the sayer IS, in fact, trying to lead the listener into passing judgement on the person being spoken about, but, is unwilling to own any of that.

I agree that both phrases are social coping mechanisms that somehow allow us to take the edge off of something we've said that either isn't true, or, isn't particularly polite to point out even if it is.

I enjoyed Card Buddy's brief blurb the most, an utterance of perceived facts bouyed by a non-chalantness that is in fact nothing but...

I grew up in rural America, bordered by forest, cow patties, one-street towns and mountains, and 'I'm just sayin' found us, though maybe our good fortunes came way of 'urban generosity.'

All I know is I've heard it for years and could employ it in a variety of ways - insecurity's mask, perceived facts that dare defiance, stealing emphasis for a variety of reasons, crediting another for several reasons, the popular 'throwing under the bus' minus a voctim (at least at that moment), or a final blow in the eye of defeat's storm.

And of course, like parade-going scavengers lining the path, judgement passes through assumptions built with confidence on a crumbling foundation, consistently too arrogant to humble itself and admit nothing is truly known.

The proof of this is the beautiful exceptions to the rule that defy scientific statistics, social profiles and civil conformity and leave us knocked off our feet by our comfortable assumptions. It'd be ideal to abandon conditioning, but the more control people reliquish the more scared they get, and it's easier to be safe than, I'm just sayin'.

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