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A client wrote to me and ended his email with this line:

If I don't talk to you beforehand, I hope you have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday!

It seems to me that this expression is for giving a heads-up of information to someone when you think you might forget or fail to do so in the future, but I need a second opinion on that.

I found some other examples with the same expression over the Internet:

(1) That’s all I got for ya! I can’t thank you enough for all your support, and I hope you’re having as much fun with all the reviews, interviews, spotlights, and gif battles as I am. I’m going to continue with these different features this month, but I’m hoping to bring you some fresh and interesting new things in 2020! If I don’t talk to you beforehand (chances are I most definitely will), I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday Season, and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

(2) If I don't talk to you beforehand, I'll see you in the morning.

(3) If I don't talk to you beforehand, I'll pick you up at your sister's at seven.

(4) A: If I don't talk to you beforehand, I'll see you at Watch Night?” B: Service is at ten, right? A: Yeah, but I plan to be there by a quarter after nine so I can get a seat. B: Okay. I’ll try and meet you there at that time.

Could somebody enlighten me on the exact meaning of this expression? When and why would you use it? Or is there another way to express "If I don't talk to you beforehand," in the same connotation?

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    As you have indirectly suggested "if I don't" means "in case I don't".
    – Peter
    Dec 16 '20 at 10:56
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    In this case, I strongly suspect "talk to" means actual physical talking (or these days, perhaps a videoconference). The client would like to give you holiday wishes in person, but doesn't know if he'll actually see you in time to do so. Pretty common usage, at least in US.
    – jamesqf
    Dec 17 '20 at 2:50
  • @jamesqf Not just the US either, not even limited to English. I've heard the equivalent in different languages as well.
    – Mast
    Dec 17 '20 at 20:12
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    Amusingly, if taken too literally, this sentences appears to suggest If I do talk to you beforehand, I hope you don't have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday!
    – Stef
    Dec 17 '20 at 21:08
  • Not just literally. You need to assume the proposition "suggests" the converse. There's a good Monty Python clip about this... "given the premise, 'all fish live underwater' and 'all mackerel are fish', my wife will conclude, not that 'all mackerel live underwater', but that 'if she buys kippers it will not rain', or that 'trout live in trees', or even that 'I do not love her any more.' This she calls 'using her intuition'. I call it 'crap', and it gets me very irritated because it is not logical." Dec 19 '20 at 8:33
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It merely reflects that someone is doing something somewhat earlier than expected because there may not be another opportunity to do so conveniently.

If you do not communicate with your client daily, he may give you a holiday greeting more than a week before Christmas. Your client probably will not have an opportunity to say “Merry Christmas” to you on Christmas morning.

It does not imply forgetfulness or failure, but shows consideration and knowledge of the uncertainty of the future.

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I understand it in this way

As I will probably not talk to you before the holidays begin, I hope you have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday!

Or

As it is likely I will not talk to you before the holidays begin, I hope you have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday!

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It is very common in English for speakers and writers to say "if [something happens]" when they actually mean "in case", to the point there's a subgenre of jokes premised on taking the "if" literally.

In such a case where the "then" is clearly intended to apply regardless of the "if" (we can presume the other person is not expecting an argument that would cause withholding wishes for happy holidays), the ordinary meaning is, in essence:

I would wish you happy holidays the next time we talked, but since that might not happen in time, I am saying it now.

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    I like to subvert this to confuse people, because that's the sort of human I am. "If I don't speak to you beforehand, I hope you have a great Christmas! If I do, I don't." Dec 16 '20 at 20:05
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    Even in mathematics a a -> b (b follows a, if a then b) expression does not make any claims for the !a (not a) case.
    – eckes
    Dec 16 '20 at 20:28
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    @eckes Precisely, but "if I don't..." is usually intended to be a prefatory clause rather than a condition. Dec 16 '20 at 22:46
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    @AsteroidsWithWings Jokes like that are funny exactly once. Dec 17 '20 at 14:19
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    @curiousdannii Per person! Dec 17 '20 at 14:32
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Beforehand literally means:

Before an action or event; in advance.

I guess this is what your client write to you:

If I don't talk to you beforehand, I hope you have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday!

It just means that:

I wish you have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday in case I can't talk to you beforehand (in advance).

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The key point here is that this escape clause is used to wrap expressions that you would only use once.
It may be easier to see if we put it in a different context.

Imagine you are at someone's house and are ready to leave. So you go around and say goodbye. But then, for some reason, you can't leave just yet. When you get ready to leave, again, a half hour later, it is a little awkward to go around and say goodbye to everyone again.
If you suspected that might happen, you might say, "If I don't see you again, I guess this is goodbye." But then when you come back later to really say goodbye, it is not so awkward since you didn't actually do it before. You just put in a proxy that turns into your goodbye if you don't come back. But then you do come back to say goodbye and the previous escape clause is invoked and cancels the previous statement.

This comes into play in any case where you might only want to say something once with regard to an event. For example, "Hope your game goes well this weekend." Whereas you wouldn't use it for phrases that are normally repeated at the end of a conversation, e.g. "Have a good day," or "Talk to you later."

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One usage spelled out in OP's question that doesn't seem directly addressed by the existing answers is #3:

If I don't talk to you beforehand, I'll pick you up at your sister's at seven.

This one is slightly different than the others in that the speaker is giving you a direction but warning you that they may modify it.

Effectively they are saying:

Right now I think I will pick you up at your sister's at seven. I may change my mind. If I do change my mind, I will get in touch with you to change the time. But if you don't hear from me to the contrary, I'll be there at seven.

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  • Yes. Also #2. Possibly worth pointing out that the other phrases are of the form "in case I don't say something later, I'm saying something now", whereas #2 & #3 are "here is information - this will remain in place unless otherwise notified"..
    – mcalex
    Dec 17 '20 at 6:50
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Well it used to be a nice way of saying Have a Happy Christmas. (I am saying it early in case we don't communicate again before the event, which is quite likely, as I am going on holiday early but don't want to tell you the client that).

But it has been "PCed" to happy, healthy and safe holiday in case someone is offended by Christmas.

Then it is being analysed and subjected to second opinion in case it is not meant in the spirit it is given (possibly because the PC conversion has now taken the warmth out of the sentiment). Or maybe the fact of someone wishing someone well is no longer to be taken at face value.

It seems to me that this expression is for giving a heads-up of information to someone when you think you might forget or fail to do so in the future, but I need a second opinion on that.

Anyway regardless of second or third opinions Happy Christmas everyone in case we don't speak again before the 25th

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  • But it has been "PCed" to happy, healthy and safe holiday in case someone is offended by Christmas. Sounds sensible to me. We celebrate on the 24th in my country by the way :)
    – smcs
    Dec 17 '20 at 11:29
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As your client, they might talk to you before the holidays in case a business issue comes up, but they are not close enough to you to talk to you only to wish you happy holidays. Hence they are extending those wishes now but might do so again.

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If I don't talk to you beforehand, I hope you have a very happy, healthy and safe holiday!

There's a logical contradiction within the words as written that needs to be ignored. In an if-then pair the opposite is assumed true.

If it's raining, I'll take an umbrella.

This implies that if it's not raining, one doesn't take the umbrella.

In the case of the original quote, the alternative - "If I do see you first, I no longer wish you the happy holiday" certainly isn't true. As another member suggested, it's actually used to suggest a joke.

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