SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is the time of year when various authorities release lists of words, phrases and acronyms that have recently joined the English language. BFF, re-tweet, unfriend, and vuvuzela made many current lists. I'm glad for all of them. But there's one phrase I hear almost every day that I don't like at all: I'm just saying.
Its origins are murky. Some people swear they heard it in an early Eddie Murphy routine. Others insist it dates from "Seinfeld" episodes. In any case, the roots of the phrase seem to be sitcom, not Shakespeare. I'm just saying.
Each week, I get emails and messages that go something like: You are witless, stupid and immoral, and I wouldn't let you near my tropical fish for fear you'd contaminate them with your depravity. Just saying.
Saying I'm just saying puts a fire escape onto the end of a sentence. It lets you express a stern, even rude, opinion, but not really. You're just saying. It invites the listener to discount what we've just heard, even as we're reeling from it.
The Urban Dictionary website explains that the phrase makes it possible to deliver a rude comment or burn and have it bounce off simply as an opinion disguised as an objective opinion, and who can argue with you over an opinion that you don't apparently support?
Imagine what the phrase might have done in earlier times. What if Moses had told Pharaoh, Let my people go. Just saying. What if Henny Youngman had said, Take my wife. I'm just saying. What if FDR tried to rally Americans out of Depression by decreeing: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. I'm just saying. Or if Churchill had tried to rouse Britain in 1940 by declaring: We shall fight them on the beaches, in the air, in the hills, and we shall never surrender. I'm just saying.
What if Romeo had seen Juliet and gushed: See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek. Just saying. She might have run off with Tybalt.
I'm glad that the English language gets enriched each year with new phrases. But just saying seems designed to let us express ourselves sharply but without conviction. It's a way of being colorful without consequences - all lip and no heart. Did we really need a new phrase to help us be more snide, snarky and insincere?
What if Stevie Wonder had sung: You are the sunshine of my life. Just saying. Some hit that'd be.
(Soundbite of song, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life")
Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Musician): (Singing) I feel like this is the beginning, though I've loved you for a million years. And if I thought our love was ending, I'd find myself drowning in my own tears. You are the sunshine of my life...
SIMON: And you're listening to NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.