A lexicon of passive aggression

(Foreword: This is a list of some of the typical phrases that I’ve heard English speakers use to manipulate others, to win an argument through unfair tactics, or to show annoyance in an indirect way. My choices for this page are intended to correspond to the popular perception of what passive aggression is, rather than the stricter definition used by psychologists. Some of the phrases in the list below can also be used without any passive-aggressive intent, depending on context, tone, etc.)

Are you offended? – I’ve been working hard to offend you; now let me blame you for misunderstanding what I said so that my hard work doesn’t go to waste.

As I already pointed out… – If you have a different opinion from me, it’s because of your inattentiveness while I was telling you what to think.

Can I ask you something? – I know you’re going to say sure, go ahead, I know you’re going to get annoyed by my question, and I’m going to let you take the blame because you said sure, go ahead.

Can I help you? – You’re the customer, so I’m not allowed to be rude to you, but you are doing something of which I disapprove and I want you to know that I would say something ruder if I was allowed.

Can I just say… – It’s only little me, and I feel the need to just say a little mean thing, so little and unimportant that it would be really shocking if anyone took offence and started a big nasty argument over it.

Can’t you take a joke? – If you refuse to laugh with me while I laugh at you, it’s clearly your lack of humour that’s to blame.

Educate yourself – You disagree because you are ignorant. Please read books by authors I agree with, in order to learn that I am right.

For future reference – I’m not blaming you. I’m not even mentioning the mistake you made. Just don’t make it again, or else.

Going forward – I’m definitely not blaming you. In fact, I’m going to not blame you at the weekly team meeting, by pointedly asking everyone not to make the same mistake as you.

Good attempt – I intend you to feel empty and discouraged, but I’m going to use the word good so that you can’t accuse me of being negative.

I didn’t realise – I did realise, but are you really going to go ahead and say I’m lying?

I don’t mean to be rude, but… – I do mean to be rude, but now you can’t say I’m being rude without directly contradicting me, which would make you rude and therefore I can’t be held responsible for any argument which ensues.

I’m sorry if anyone was offended – People say I offended them, but obviously that can’t truly be the case: they’re either lying in order to make me look bad, or being overly sensitive. I’ve been told to apologise, so I’m saying the word sorry. What more do you all want?

I see where you’re coming from – I understand why your own limitations would cause you to have this particular wrong opinion.

I thought you were busy / finished / working on it – I didn’t think that at all, but I want to make you justify yourself.

It was a simple question – I haven’t decided whether your negative reaction to my question is because you’re too stupid to understand, or because you’re so sensitive that you over-complicated it. What is clear, either way, is that I am not to blame.

I’ve never heard anyone else say that – What you’re saying is outside my experience, and I wish it to remain outside my experience. Please don’t say any more, or I will be forced to imply that you are a weirdo and it won’t be my fault if you get offended after that.

So are you going to [do this thing], or are you not? – Stop politely but indecisively declining my request and make a clear and firm choice that you’re going to do what I want.

With all due respect – With all the respect that I feel is due to you, i.e. none.

yeah lol – I want to ignore your text, but in an active way so that you get a notification of the fact that I’m ignoring it.

You seem very aggressive / insistent / upset – All I’m doing is correcting your wrong opinion in a helpful and reasonable way, yet you continue to irrationally maintain that you are right. I am forced to conclude that your outbursts of disagreement are the result of heightened emotion on your part. If you respond with irritation to this statement, you thereby prove that I am right.

Your privacy is important to us – Your personal data is important to us, but we’re going to lie to you. You know we’re lying. We know you know, and we don’t care because we see you as nothing more than a product.

(Main photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels)

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