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In the following sentence does "beyond your comprehension" have an offensive connotation?

When a large population of tourists swarm the city during the tourism season, it's beyond your comprehension.

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    Yes, most people would see at least some element of "dismissive putdown" in your example usage, unless they realised it was just an unintentional "error" from a non-native speaker. Definitely get rid of your, but if you want to avoid implying even that your interlocutor is as uncomprehending as you, perhaps switch to the more overtly self-deprecating it's beyond me. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Oct 29 '20 at 12:43
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    No, it is not offensive, except to a very dedicated offense-seeker. It is just a remark about tourist volumes. The hearer's comprehension levels don't really come into it. – user207421 Oct 29 '20 at 23:35
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    @MarquisofLorne, well, either a dedicated offense-seeker or - more likely - anyone who wasn't paying close enough attention to the meaning of the sentence as a whole. A native speaker would normally only use the phrase "beyond your comprehension" in a derogatory way, so it is likely to cause a reflexive negative reaction. – Harry Johnston Oct 29 '20 at 23:56
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    When one person says it's not offensive, and several people say it is is offensive, and your goal is to avoid being offensive, you should err on the side of caution and ignore the person saying it's not offensive. – barbecue Oct 30 '20 at 5:40
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    @RiversMcForge What on earth are you rambling about? Sample size? Proof? This is simple common sense. It's not a poll or a research project. Some people say it's not offensive, some say it is. If your goal is to avoid offending people, ignoring the ones who say it's offensive is stupid, because it guarantees you're going to offend some people. Ignoring those who say it's NOT offensive is very unlikely to result in someone being offended, which is the stated goal. Avoiding the phrase does not offend anyone, unless you're some weirdo who is offended by NOT hearing phrases. – barbecue Oct 31 '20 at 23:44
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If you are directing it at a particular person it may be somewhat offensive, since it implies that they are stupid. It would be better to say, "... is beyond comprehension" In other words it is beyond anyone's comprehension, not just yours.

In the actual context, I can comprehend a very large number of tourists, so I'm not sure that the expression fits well.

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    The expression always fits. The large number of tourists you're imagining -- that's nothing. Masses at the state fair, the noise, smells, every sports bar before a hockey game -- it's indescribably more than all that. It's beyond comprehension. – Owen Reynolds Oct 30 '20 at 4:21
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    I read it as not comprehending why large numbers of tourists would swarm to the same place, when they could all be somewhere less crowded. – Pete Kirkham Oct 30 '20 at 14:34
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    I can't comprehend more than 5 or so objects simultaneously, and I can't really comprehend an individual human, so I would say it's safe enough to call it true. :-) – jpaugh Oct 30 '20 at 19:28
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    This is an extremely strange, pedantic, and divorced-from-context answer. I sincerely believe if you came across the phrase outside of trying to analyse it for a StackExchange answer your response would not be "but I can comprehend it!" You would simply experience it as a turn of phrase intended to give a certain effect; the same effect as "when the tourists tourists swarm the city, it's unimaginable!" Your response would not be "... but I can imagine it". Rivers McForge's answer analyses the question correctly; and of course the phrase is indeed wholly inoffensive. – Judy N. Oct 31 '20 at 20:58
  • This response, especially the last sentence, seems overly literal minded. If I tell someone "You would not believe the crowds of tourists in the city today," I clearly mean that there were a surprisingly large number of tourists, rather than that they would doubt their own eyes and assume the crowds were some kind of holographic optical illusion. – Rivers McForge Nov 1 '20 at 3:16
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No. It's not offensive, although beyond your comprehension can be used in an offensive way.

Italian is beyond your comprehension, could be considered offensive if it implies you are not smart enough to learn a new language.

Your usage, however, describes an event that your audience/listener has never experienced. In that case saying that it's beyond their comprehension is not a comment on their intelligence or wisdom but instead an observation that their experience would be unique.

It might best be expressed, When a large population of tourists swarms the city during the tourism season, it will be beyond your comprehension. This further clarifies that you're not making an assumption about someone's abilities but instead about their experiences.

  • We could swap the person referred to around and see if it's still offensive. For instance, I could (indeed, probably have) say that spoken Chinese is beyond my comprehension, without intending to offend myself. – jamesqf Oct 30 '20 at 3:43
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    @jamesqf That isn't really a good example since there are many things you can say about yourself but can't say the same about others (without being rude). – zhantongz Oct 30 '20 at 11:07
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In the sentence quoted in the question, depending on the context, 'your' is possibly used in the same meaning as 'one's' (i.e., it is the possessive form of generic you):

When [...], it's beyond one's comprehension.

In that case it is not offensive. Rather, it is very similar to "it's beyond comprehension".

  • I was within seconds of pressing "Add Comment" to make this very point when I thought I'd better check the existing answers first. This is most likely the best answer given the original quote without any surrounding context. – Spratty Oct 30 '20 at 16:54
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No, it's not offensive in the example sentence

As used in the OP:

In the following sentence does "beyond your comprehension" have an offensive connotation?

When a large population of tourists swarm the city during the tourism season, it's beyond your comprehension.

A native speaker would almost certainly not take offense to hearing that the population of tourists was "beyond your comprehension". Although some of my fellow native speakers seem to have little faith in the average person's intelligence, average people perfectly well understand what it means to exaggerate for effect, and also what the generic you means.

They would take "beyond your comprehension" as a hyperbolic overstatement meant to convey the sheer size of the crowd, and the "your" in that phrase as referring not to them in particular, but as a colloquial synonym for "one's", i.e. "beyond one's comprehension".

So yes, you could use this sentence without fear of offending any but the most "dedicated offense-seekers" (as @Marquis puts it in a comment).

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The example sentence sounds like a miss-translation. Since it is not really targeted I would guess most people understand it as a bad idiom for "unbelievable".

In German for example is the "das kannst Du Dir nicht vorstellen" (you can’t imagine..). This would be better translated with "you won’t believe it" or "beyond ones comprehension".

As for the precise question, if you use the term in a sentence like "This topic is beyond your comprehension" this would be incredible rude or condescending, you would basically call the other person stupid - your sentence seems not be meant like this, however it can be easily misunderstood, so better avoid it.

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I don't know the context for the original quote, but it sounds to me as though someone has failed to prepare for the arrival of large numbers of tourists in tourist season, and someone else is suggesting that the first person is incapable of understanding that this was a likely occurrence.

If so, since it's hardly a difficult thing to anticipate, implying that someone is too stupid to anticipate it is highly offensive.

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To solve this general problem, you can use the word "incomprehensible" instead. The passive voice means it's not a specific indictment of the reader's ability to comprehend; rather, it's a judgement about the entire world.

However, that would still read rather oddly in your sentence. You could instead refer to the "incomprehensibly vast swarm of tourists during the high season", for example (where I've used "vast" so as to avoid implying that the tourists are incomprehensible - e.g. that they can't speak the native language).

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