The other day, I was grocery shopping at the Whole Foods in Hadley. I was just minding my own business piling 20 sumo oranges into a cart for my girlfriend’s stepdad (who goes through like three a day) when this random lady in a mauve tracksuit who was bagging Cara Caras next to me (who also happened to be the only person in the store I saw not wearing a mask and who I’d bet $100 is a certifiable “crunchy mom”) looked over and said, in a quite judgemental tone, “No offense, but that’s a lot of oranges.” I was so taken aback — not only because a total stranger thought that I cared for her input, but also because she thought her comment about the number of oranges I was buying was something that necessitated being preceded by “no offense” — that I didn’t say anything at all. We stood there making painfully awkward eye contact until she turned away and walked towards the tomatoes.
If you preface a statement with “no offense,” it only confirms that it’s offensive, or at least that you think it’s offensive. I’m not sure why the Whole Foods Crunchy Mom thought her comment to me could be offensive — maybe there’s a social norm about oranges that I’ve been stupidly unaware of for the past 18 years of my life — but I certainly don’t think that buying a lot of oranges is something a person should be ashamed of. A lot of oranges is just a lot of oranges. And they’re high in vitamin C, fiber, water, and antioxidants. It’s not like I was buying 20 12-inch cakes, and if I was, well, that’s my business.
Honestly, I’m not sure if it made me more or less unnerved that her comment wasn’t something I saw to be offensive at all. I suppose it would have been worse if she said “No offense, but your hair looks like the sugar-free granola I serve my children with raisins for breakfast every morning,” or “No offense, but your outfit is as dry and tasteless as the organic chicken breasts I grill for my husband every Thursday,” but adding “no offense” to her orange remark might as well have made it just as bad. If something you say wasn’t rude before, the addition of “no offense” will have certainly made it rude now.
If you think that including “no offense” will somehow purge an ugly remark of its insult, I promise you it won’t. You might as well just state, “I know this isn’t something I should say because it’s insulting, but I’m going to share anyway because I don’t care about your feelings.” It only affirms that you know you’ve said something rude, and it’ll only annoy someone further. You know that rule we teach kids as soon as they can talk? That beloved quote so eloquently spoken by Thumper in Bambi? Remember: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”
So if you find the phrase “no offense” building on your tongue, you should probably just bite down on it. Resist the urge to say whatever you were about to say because no offense, but absolutely no one asked for your opinion.