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I have heard this phrase often when people are irritated if not upset about what had happened despite them making it clearer that they don't wish for it.

Eg:

  1. I thought I said NO.
  2. I thought I said no surprises
  3. I thought we said no to puppies

What does the phrase mean actually? Does it always carry a negative tone with it? The above examples obviously emit irritation to me. Any thoughts?

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    This is another one of those questions where translation into your language would produce the same result.
    – Lambie
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:24
  • Have you seen no cases using, eg, I thought I said YES; I thought I said plenty of surprises; I thought we said yes, bring on the puppies? Sep 6, 2023 at 19:44

3 Answers 3

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The tone is usually negative, and sarcasm is involved. When the TV that cost £1000 is smashed, and I say to my son, 'I thought I told you not to play football in the house', I am pretending not to be sure that I told him that.

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    That pretending is the irony of sarcasm, because you know you did more than think you said it. Sep 5, 2023 at 13:25
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    @YosefBaskin - like saying to a waiter, 'I could have sworn I asked for steak' when he brings you fish. I am told by my American sister-in-law that some Americans call this sort of thing English 'snark' and don't like it. She's been here long enough to pick up the tendency. Sep 5, 2023 at 13:28
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    Yes, we use that tone to fake 'taking it on ourselves': It must be me. This isn't what I ordered, but that's just me. Did I miscommunicate? Sep 5, 2023 at 13:35
  • @MichaelHarvey Although "I could have sworn" is actually a pretty strong statement and therefore void of sarcasm, or at least irony (can you have sarcasm without irony?). It may be used to actually express self-doubt. Like muttering to oneself "I could have sworn that I put my glasses on the desk (but cannot see them now, what's wrong with me?)". Sep 6, 2023 at 15:11
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica - 'I could have sworn' can be used with or without sarcasm. Sep 6, 2023 at 16:16
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It does generally carry a negative tone, but not always. One can imagine a young couple in love and one of them looking adoringly at the other, saying, “I thought I said I didn’t want any birthday gifts.” Here it might be intended to convey mild surprise, and perhaps infatuated gratitude. But that sort of example is probably the exception.

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    Ah, 'infatuated gratitude' - how fine it was! Sep 5, 2023 at 12:27
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    Shameless steal from Frank Zappa - Cheap thrills in the back of my car/Cheap thrills - how fine they are! Sep 5, 2023 at 15:11
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    Kind of a double irony (she knows she said it, and she is not mad even though she is pretending). "Bad boy!" -- "You shouldn't have!" would be lacking the first part, only pretending an objection. Sep 6, 2023 at 15:14
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Other answers have talked about the meaning in your examples, but I just want to add that it can also literally mean what it says, that is "I was under the impression that I said something [but actually I didn't]".

For example, say I'm explaining how to set up a tent and I say, "Now do the pegs like I said." but someone replies "How's that?" so I say, "Oops, I thought I said that already. They need to go in at a 45-degree angle."

Or say I'm walking a customer through setting up some software, and they want to disable a specific feature. The menu to do that is confusing so they click the wrong option and I ask "Didn't you want to disable that?" so they say "I enabled it? I thought I said to disable it! Darn menu didn't make any sense." (And just in case it's unclear, "said" here doesn't literally mean "spoke out loud".)

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    Tone of voice is very important in distinguishing the two cases. Sep 6, 2023 at 18:03
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    @Glenn And context in the second example here. Without the surrounding sentences, a frustrated tone on "I thought I said to disable it!" could be either at the menu or at me (if the customer misunderstood how the process works).
    – wjandrea
    Sep 6, 2023 at 19:11

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