The expression of course looks innocent, but it can create problems.

Writers and speakers casually insert the phrase to indicate that something is obvious or self-evident. In most cases, it’s perfectly acceptable. But in others, it can sound insulting or patronizing.

The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style, by Paul W. Lovinger, has a good explanation of the trouble these two words can cause:

“A writer attaches an ‘of course’ to an obscure fact or arguable proposition, thereby implying to a number of readers that they are dolts for not knowing what the writer knows.”

Here are a few examples, found online, demonstrating how of course may presume too much or make unintended insinuations:

  • “Of course, we trust the wisdom of the bankruptcy court in supervising such a delicate endeavor.”
  • “Of course, the premier event of the racing year is Pimlico’s Preakness Stakes…”
  • “The Army is formally stating that of course combat is continuing in Iraq…”

Lovinger notes other common phrases that present similar risks of offense or condescension: as everyone knows, it goes without saying, for the simple reason that, and assorted variants.
So should you exercise care with this expression? Of course!

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant for more than 30 years. He may be best known for his headline “Speak Spanish [French, German, etc.] Like a Diplomat!” This familiar series of ads sold spectacular numbers of recorded foreign language lessons for Audio-Forum, generating revenues that total in the tens of millions of dollars. In the process, the ad achieved the status of an industry classic. Don’s work is mentioned in three major college advertising textbooks, and examples of his promotions are cited in the books Million Dollar Mailings (1992) and World's Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters (1996). In a column in Advertising Age, his name was included in a short list of direct-marketing “superstars.” He has a parallel career as a writer on language and wordplay. His celebration of spoonerisms, Cruel and Unusual Puns (Dell, 1991), received rave reviews and quickly went into a second printing. His second book was Acronymania (Dell, 1993). Recently, Don retired from full-time copywriting in order to focus on other interests, including his passion for “recreational linguistics.” He is at work on a new book in that genre. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Word Ways and writes “The Language Perfectionist,” a weekly column on grammar and usage, for Early to Rise. Don is author of The Versatile Freelancer,an e-book from American Writers and Artists, Inc. (AWAI) that shows copywriters – and almost anyone – how to diversify their careers into consulting, training, critiquing, and speaking.