I couldn't possibly comment

ewllab

Member
Polish
Hello!

I have a problem with understanding one phrase in the context. The part of conversation I paste is from BBC learning 'The Flatmates' series:
(...)
Helen: And here's a present, from me.
Khalid:
Thanks you guys. Really you shouldn't have. Oh, a jumper. That's lovely Helen, thanks.
Tim:
I think I recognise that top, Helen! Isn't that the jumper your mum gave you for Christmas?
Helen:
I couldn't possibly comment.
Tim:
What an excellent idea, giving your cast-offs as presents.
Helen:
Well that's not what I'd call it. I believe the word you're searching for is "re-gift". (...)

I understand every single word but don't know what Helen meant with her remark 'I couldn't possibly comment.' It sounds ironic to me,but I really don't know how to explain it and I don't know if I'm right that it sounds ironic...

Could you help, please?

Thank you in advance.
 
  • se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    "You may think that, but I couldn't possibly comment" is a catch-phrase of Sir Humphrey Appleby, a fictional (but very realistic) civil servant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes_Minister Sir Appleby has a habit of pointing out cases where it is not appropriate for him to express an opinion, but nevertheless making his opinion very clearly known.

    There are many questions to which it is impossible to give a diplomatic answer: another famous one is Does my bum look big in this?


    CORRECTION: Thanks to PaulQ for reminding me that "You may think that, but I couldn't possibly comment" is in fact the catch-phrase of Francis Urquhart, an MP not a civil servant, in House of Cards, which was a more earnest (and slightly later) BBC treatment of political machinations. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Cards
     
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    e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    To me, it's just a way of avoiding saying "Yes". She doesn't want to admit it and does not want to say "No", which would be a lie.
    In other words, she does not want to give a direct answer, although anyone who heard her would understand her to mean "Yes".

    PS Noting the previous answer, it's the sort of expression that a diplomat or a politician would use to avoid being frank.
     
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    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    It used to be a diplomatic phrase (popular amongst British politicians and others) for, "I am not going to give you an answer." It is now broadly understood as an admission by anyone who says it.
     
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