Language experts have textbook names for these phrases—"performatives," or "qualifiers." Essentially, taken alone, they express a simple thought, such as "I am writing to say…" At first, they seem harmless, formal, maybe even polite. But coming before another statement, they often signal that bad news, or even some dishonesty on the part of the speaker, will follow.So politeness, being nice, is a form of deception, a way of being dishonest.
"Politeness is another word for deception," says James W. Pennebaker, chair of the psychology department of the University of Texas at Austin, who studies these phrases. "The point is to formalize social relations so you don't have to reveal your true self."
In other words, "if you're going to lie, it's a good way to do it—because you're not really lying. So it softens the blow," Dr. Pennebaker says.
"To be perfectly honest…" is another phrase to strike from your speech, she [Ellen Jovin] says. It often prefaces negative comments, and can seem condescending. It signals a larger issue: If you are taking the trouble to announce your honesty now, maybe you aren't always truthful.It is a little like statements of loyalty. People who are actually loyal to something or someone have no need to comment on how they are being loyal because everyone knows from their words and deeds that they are.
"You are more likely to seem like someone who is perfectly honest when you are no longer commenting on it," Ms. Jovin says.