With All Due Respect

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A reader wonders why the word due precedes the word respect in the expression “with all due respect”:

Every time I hear it, I mull over the possibility of this quotation being better phrased as “with all respect due.” I think it not only sounds better but…improves its usage.

“With all due respect” and its variations “with all respect” and “with great respect,” are condensed ways of saying, “with all the regard that is owing [to you].”

As formerly used, it was a way of politely disagreeing with someone of equal or superior social status, as illustrated in these examples from the OED:

At one point Arthur said, ‘With great respect, Mr Prime Minister, I must say I think your policy invites aggression.’ 1940, C. Brooks Journal

It is, with the greatest respect to His Grace, very little use to say that the book has ‘caused more hubbub than it is worth’. 1977, Church Times 22 July 10/1  

With respect, admiral, we should not be building boats for any other purpose than for sinking enemy shipping. 1980, lJ. Follett Churchill’s Gold

The expression’s use as a conversational lubricant for polite disagreement can already be seen to be slipping in this citation from 2004:

Ambassador, with all due respect—that explanation is getting pretty stale! –Duty, Honor, Redempt

In 2014, writer Janet Burroway used the idiom as an expression of deference in an interview archived at the Chicago Manual of Style site:

Although I hadn’t been an editor before, I had been edited a gazillion times, often well and a few times badly, and I had an inkling of how to make a suggestion or elicit a change, with due respect to the author and her process. 

But in popular culture, the expression has become associated more with insult than with respectful deference:

Bill, with all due respect, you’re an idiot. –Stephen Colbert to Bill O’Reilly

Amanda Marcotte – With All Due Respect, You Are A Moron. –Blog headline.

When do you plan on submitting your resignation? I ask this with all due respect. –Blog reader responding to request for questions for Senator Richard Durbin.

The 2006 movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, may have influenced the popularity of “with all due respect” used to introduce a blatantly disrespectful and offensive comment. At least twice in the movie, Ricky Bobby says something extremely vulgar to his team owner. He has the mistaken notion that prefacing a remark with the expression “with all due respect” gives a speaker license to insult and offend.

As for the reader’s question about word order, the idiom “with all due respect” is a set phrase like “a stitch in time,” “better late than never,” or “about face.” Changing the word order is possible, I suppose, but it would no longer be the same idiomatic expression.

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1 thought on “With All Due Respect”

  1. I don’t see how changing the word order makes it sound better or improves its usage. As you said, Maeve, the phrase is already constructed as it is and there’s nothing wrong with or ungrammatical about it. Nevertheless, if someone wants to freshen things up a bit and change it around, make it less of a cliché maybe, then “with all respect due” is fine in my book.
    It’s kind of like, why do we talk about a cat’s pajamas? Exactly what else is in this cat’s wardrobe? Who knows. The expression is what it is. Who are you going to argue with (“with whom are you going to argue?”) LOL

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