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#1
Old 08-24-2015, 07:34 AM
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What does "Charmed, I'm sure" mean?

Generally I hear it in old movies. I think I've heard more contemporary use of the phrase but those instances seem to be meant specifically to evoke earlier times. It's always in response to being introduced to someone, or a greeting to someone upon first being introduced.

It usually seems to be used in such a way that the person using the phrase seems to be asserting dominance by making the other person question their own social standing, a social power play of sorts. As best I can tell from context, it seems to mean:
  1. No doubt you are charmed to meet ME. Aren't you lucky to experience such a privilege.
    OR ...
  2. We're only just now being introduced, but I will graciously give you the benefit of the doubt that I will come to feel charmed by your aquaintance. I'm generous that way.

Now, that's what it seems to mean superficially. The subtext, as I mentioned, seems to be more about establishing dominance.

So, is one of my interpretations correct? Or does it mean something else altogether?
I tend to lean toward definition #2 because ...definition #1 is really too straightforwardly obnoxious, isn't it? I mean, if you're trying to hide a social slight within feigned pleasantries then definition #1 isn't particularly well done camouflage. You might as well just turn away from the person without extending your hand or saying anything if you want to be that rude.

So, yes, I lean toward definition #2 because at least it allows for being delivered ironically, allowing plausible deniability in the event of being called out for rudeness. But, still, a lot of times it really sounds like definition #1.

Further confusing matters: sometimes (rarely, but sometimes) it sounds like it's meant to be perfectly sociable and friendly with no caddiness or social one-upmanship whatsoever.

And so, I wonder if perhaps neither of my interpretations are correct.
#2
Old 08-24-2015, 07:43 AM
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I also wonder what it was supposed to mean. But as a data point, your #1 was never even close to entering my mind. Your #2 does make more sense than the best I could come up with, which was that the speaker has been immediately charmed, but needed to reflect a bit to be sure of this, which seems both superficial and passive aggressive at the same time, which I agree is not in keeping with its being seemingly completely socially acceptable.
#3
Old 08-24-2015, 07:50 AM
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Generally a way of declaring this is a delightful situation.


Or the reverse.




It was often a symptom of perfunctoriness.
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#4
Old 08-24-2015, 08:08 AM
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"Charmed," I think, is just a variation of the typical pleasant thing you say when introduced to someone. It's similar to saying "Pleased to meet you." It's not indicative that you're "graciously giving anyone the benefit of the doubt," it's just what you say. After all, how do I know that I'm pleased to meet you? You might turn out to be an asshole. But I say that I'm "pleased" anyway, because that's what you say when you're meeting someone. "Charmed" is a rather--well, charming--variation of that.

The "I'm sure" part is a little more mysterious, but I've noticed that some people seem to use that phrase as a generic way to add emphasis. Ever hear someone say "I'm sure I don't know?" That's stronger than just saying "I don't know." I think that "Charmed, I'm sure" functions in the same way, making the sentence stronger than if you just said "Charmed."

Can it be used derisively or condescendingly? Of course, but I don't think that's inherent to the phrase. Almost any greeting can, if delivered in the right tone.
#5
Old 08-24-2015, 11:17 AM
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Benny Hill did an old routine where a celebrity, after being introduced on a talk show, responds, "It is an honor and a privilege". The host responds, "Well, it is an honor and a privilege for me." To which the celebrity responds, "That is what I meant."

With the right delivery of "Charmed, I'm sure", you can get pretty much the same implication.
#6
Old 08-24-2015, 11:39 AM
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Sheer speculation, but I'm thinking that "Charmed" is essentially a direct translation from the classy French "enchante". But the single syllable "Charmed" might sound excessively dismissive, so some extra meta-syntactic syllables got added just to fill in the spaces.
#7
Old 08-24-2015, 12:24 PM
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I've always visualized a frog being introduced to a princess and responding, "Enchanté, ma'mselle."


Well, I think it's funny.
#8
Old 08-24-2015, 12:25 PM
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Obviously with the correct tone of voice, the phrase can be made to be dismissive or condescending, but that's a function of the tone of voice, not of the phrase. See also the "Good morning" exchange in The Hobbit. The straight meaning, though, is positive.
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#9
Old 08-24-2015, 01:01 PM
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It's a social token that isn't to be taken literally. It's now outmoded but in its time was probably quite common in more formal settings. It means exactly the same as "how do you do" or the contemporary "nice to meet you." (Not #1 in the OP.)

As has been said, any phrase, including this one, can be used with a tone of snark. Old movies probably used it often in a sarcastic sense to comedically show that the character was sarcastic and possibly also to lampoon more formal strata of society.

It's like when someone says, "How are you?" and you say "Fine". It's a ritual. They don't really want to hear about your carbuncle.
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Last edited by CookingWithGas; 08-24-2015 at 01:02 PM.
#10
Old 08-24-2015, 01:06 PM
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This site says that it's mostly used as a joke in old movies, and never was a common phrase in serious conversation.

Quote:
This usage is clearly meant as something of a gentle laugh line; it nearly always indicates a character who is unsophisticated but would have us believe otherwise.

It’s depicted as an overreach, taking polite speech and giving it an inadvertent twist toward the uncultivated.

Less often, it is used as a chilly form of greeting, the “I’m sure” giving the lie to the “Charmed,” when a character is anything but happy to be encountering in public the person in question.

But have you ever heard anyone in real life use “I’m sure” in this fashion? “Nice to meet you, I’m sure.” “It’s my pleasure, I’m sure.” These usages crop up in old movies, too, but we have to admit we have never heard them used in real life.
#11
Old 08-24-2015, 01:15 PM
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I always interpreted it as something of both a truncation and transposition: "I am sure that I am charmed by making your acquaintance".
#12
Old 08-24-2015, 01:26 PM
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I only remember it from White Christmas. The actress, character, setting and her voice made me think they were making fun of her. Like she was a dumb blond who didn't know the right social protocols.
#13
Old 08-24-2015, 01:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sitchensis View Post
I only remember it from White Christmas. The actress, character, setting and her voice made me think they were making fun of her. Like she was a dumb blond who didn't know the right social protocols.
IOW, "I'm charmed. At least I think that's what I'm supposed to say here. This fancy living is all so unfamiliar and exciting to me!"



The part of the introduction ritual I've never understood is the use of the word "this". E.g.

Me: "Sam, this is Jane."
Sam" "Nice to meet you Jane."
Me: "And Jane, this is Sam."
Jane: "It's likewise a pleasure Sam."

When else would we ever use a pronoun like "this" to refer to a person, and one standing right there to boot! It'd be like referring to someone as "it" rather than "he" or "she".

e.g. "This is a table; that is a lamp; she over there with the martini is Jane Jones, the famous football player." Try putting "this" or "that" in the third clause and it's a real off-putting / disrespectful / distancing way to refer to Jane.

Last edited by LSLGuy; 08-24-2015 at 01:38 PM.
#14
Old 08-24-2015, 01:41 PM
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Why wouldn't one use "this" to refer to a person? There's no other pronoun that serves the same function, like there is with "he" or "she" in place of "it". "This is a table" is shorthand for "this object is a table", and "this is Jane" is shorthand for "this person is Jane".
#15
Old 08-24-2015, 05:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LSLGuy View Post
When else would we ever use a pronoun like "this" to refer to a person...[?]
"Ring, Ring"
"Hello?"
"Hi Bert! This is Ernie."
#16
Old 08-24-2015, 05:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
This site says that it's mostly used as a joke in old movies, and never was a common phrase in serious conversation.
I guess I could believe that. Like Olive Oyl saying in that squeaky voice, "I'm pleased to make your acquaintance!"
#17
Old 08-26-2015, 03:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
It's a social token that isn't to be taken literally. It's now outmoded but in its time was probably quite common in more formal settings. It means exactly the same as "how do you do" or the contemporary "nice to meet you." (Not #1 in the OP.)
Incidentally, the correct response to "How do you do?" is "How do you do?".
#18
Old 08-26-2015, 03:40 PM
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Charmed, I'm sure.

I always thought of that as a subtle insult. Usually to someone who did not get it.
#19
Old 08-26-2015, 04:20 PM
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I'm pretty sure the phrase is British. It was in use by 1825, when British culture was moving toward excessively phrased civility, especially by the new middle class.

In American culture that cuts two ways. American manners were heavily influenced by British custom, and the 19th century was also a time here when the middle class started to grow and to imitate the manners of the upper crust.

So you had people who truly were trying to be polite and proper as they understood it. That meant, as it always does, that people who wanted to mock them would use the same words and gestures mockingly. Oliver Hardy is an example. His character wants to be thought of as genteel but he is rising above his proper place, as seen by society then.

If you use it seriously, "Charmed, I'm sure," is exactly equal to "Pleased to meet you." Neither of the OP's interpretations are correct.

If it's not being used seriously, then it can have multiple shades of meaning, just like any other piece of sarcasm. Figuring out exactly how it was meant in movies that are near a century old can be tough because almost none of that time's nuances of class still exist.
#20
Old 08-26-2015, 04:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bordelond View Post
I always interpreted it as something of both a truncation and transposition: "I am sure that I am charmed by making your acquaintance".
I always took it to mean:

I suspect I that am supposed to be charmed by meeting you, but I'm not really quite sure that I am.

Or:

I'm sure I'd be charmed to meet you if I could be bothered to know who the hell you are.

Last edited by John Mace; 08-26-2015 at 04:56 PM.
#21
Old 08-26-2015, 06:07 PM
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Chilliness never goes amiss

"Pleased to meet you." or "Pleesedtameetcha" is considered vulgar, and rather ingratiating.


"How do you do ?" is the only safe bet.



Seriously.
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#22
Old 08-26-2015, 09:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Schnauzer View Post
Incidentally, the correct response to "How do you do?" is "How do you do?".
That certainly used to be the case, but I think most people now are unfamiliar with the rule and would consider it insufferably rude. Do modern etiquette guides still teach that?
#23
Old 08-28-2015, 05:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LSLGuy View Post
IOW, "I'm charmed. At least I think that's what I'm supposed to say here. This fancy living is all so unfamiliar and exciting to me!"



The part of the introduction ritual I've never understood is the use of the word "this". E.g.

Me: "Sam, this is Jane."
Sam" "Nice to meet you Jane."
Me: "And Jane, this is Sam."
Jane: "It's likewise a pleasure Sam."

When else would we ever use a pronoun like "this" to refer to a person, and one standing right there to boot! It'd be like referring to someone as "it" rather than "he" or "she".

e.g. "This is a table; that is a lamp; she over there with the martini is Jane Jones, the famous football player." Try putting "this" or "that" in the third clause and it's a real off-putting / disrespectful / distancing way to refer to Jane.
If it's obvious that Jane is female there's no need to add that fact, the same as if someone says "Oh, it's warm today, isn't it?" in that everyone knows they're speaking about the weather and not their cup of coffee. It's generally considered more polite to add some extra, positive info, such as "This is Jane, my dear friend, who's a great designer" .... "and this is Sam, who's a wonderful chef" as this will give Sam and Jane something to talk about, plus your attention to their hobbies makes you look good .

Quote:
Originally Posted by Alan Smithee View Post
That certainly used to be the case, but I think most people now are unfamiliar with the rule and would consider it insufferably rude. Do modern etiquette guides still teach that?
I don't know if it's still taught but it is practised, although only in small circles. If someone says 'How do you do?' I return the phrase to them to avoid any social faux pas, but this happens very rarely.
#24
Old 08-28-2015, 08:00 AM
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Hmmm, I always assumed it was the Americanization of the French, "Enchante", which, when delivered with a lovely French accent sounds oh so lovely. Whereas the American version, with the added, "I'm sure!", is somewhat literal and crass by comparison. So whenever I encountered it I thought it was illustrating an American poser aspiring to European manners, and missing by a mile. That's why it's in cartoons, I thought! This has been an interesting discussion!

Last edited by elbows; 08-28-2015 at 08:01 AM.
#25
Old 08-28-2015, 08:51 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by elbows View Post
Hmmm, I always assumed it was the Americanization of the French, "Enchante", which, when delivered with a lovely French accent sounds oh so lovely. Whereas the American version, with the added, "I'm sure!", is somewhat literal and crass by comparison. So whenever I encountered it I thought it was illustrating an American poser aspiring to European manners, and missing by a mile. That's why it's in cartoons, I thought! This has been an interesting discussion!
The "I'm sure" ending is attached to many introductions and can be found in Dickens. It's almost certainly English in origin.
#26
Old 08-29-2015, 03:37 PM
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All I can think of when I see this is on the old Fibber McGee & Molly radio show, where Molly would say, "How do you do, I'm sure?" when introduced to someone. I never could figure that one out...
#27
Old 08-29-2015, 04:42 PM
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I think on that show the incoherence of that phrase was played for humorous effect. Like someone trying a little too hard to say the "classy" thing.
#28
Old 08-29-2015, 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by JustinC View Post
I don't know if it's still taught but it is practised, although only in small circles. If someone says 'How do you do?' I return the phrase to them to avoid any social faux pas, but this happens very rarely.
One thing I've never been clear on is whether the rule applies to equivalent phrases like "How are you?"
#29
Old 08-29-2015, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Alan Smithee View Post
One thing I've never been clear on is whether the rule applies to equivalent phrases like "How are you?"
I cannot look at someone who says that without replying, "Good, how are you?"
#30
Old 08-30-2015, 11:06 AM
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For some reason this phrase brings to mind Thurston Howell from Gilligan's Island.
#31
Old 08-30-2015, 11:23 AM
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Originally Posted by CookingWithGas View Post
I cannot look at someone who says that without replying, "Good, how are you?"
I'm worse. I'll start telling them how I am.
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