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Imagine somebody is trying to achieve something, and explains you what the task is. At some point, you need to make clear what it needs to be done, since the person talking to you doesn't seem to understand what you previously said.
Is it rude to start a sentence with "First off"?

As another example, suppose somebody is telling you that you said something, when you didn't. Would be rude to answer with "First off, I didn't say that."?

  • 2
    "First off" is merely a verbosity, but it does have a defensive ring to it, doesn't it? I think so. Not rude, necessarily, but it suggests defensiveness or just sloppy usage. Context determines whether it's an appropriate beginning, and, if spoken, tone of voice & body language telegraph the speaker's attitude, except in consummate actors. – user264 Apr 4 '13 at 14:16
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    Obviously in OP's example context, starting your response with "First off, I didn't say that" is inherently much more belligerent than, say, "I don't really understand why you think I said that, when to the best of my knowledge I didn't". But "rudeness" is a highly subjective issue, and some people might find the "extended/placatory" response even more rude, if they understand you to be "talking down" to them. – FumbleFingers Apr 4 '13 at 15:38
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    "First off" is a bastardization of the idiom "first of all," which you'd use when you're about to enumerate several things. (For example, "First of all, you showed up late. Second, you weren't prepared. Third, you need a shower.") – Blrfl Apr 4 '13 at 16:25
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    I would also use "first of all" as a more proper term. "First off" is abrupt and may be misunderstood. – user485 Apr 4 '13 at 19:03
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    Why is this suggested for closing? This seems a very relevant issue to an ELL, and plenty constructive. Close voter(s), please comment with an explanation. – Ken Bellows Apr 4 '13 at 20:27
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It is no ruder or more courteous than 'First' or 'To begin with' or 'In the first place' or 'Let me start by saying'. They are all perhaps a little abrupt.

It doesn't really matter which you use. What does matter is your tone of voice and other non-linguistic cues you provide.

23

These words are not rude of themselves. Of course they might be part of a rude statement.

How do I post a question on Stack Exchange?

First off you need to register for an account.

Nothing rude about that.

How do I post a question on Stack Exchange?

First off, you're a moron and no one is interested in your questions.

That would be rude.

As StoneyB indicates, the same words might be polite if said in one tone of voice and rude if said in another, etc.

4

It isn't rude to lead a sentence with "first off", but take in mind a few other factors:

You are telling your conversation partner that you have a thing or two to tell them, and that might very well be interpreted badly: "Oh wow, here he go again.."

It's very easy to tone "first off" in a disagreeable manner - even if you didn't mean to disagree strongly.

I'd recommend refraining from using "first off" at all, but of course you are free to use the language the way you like to.

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