not to [VERB], but...


far be it from me

1 Starting a statement with not to [VERB] or far be it from me to [VERB] (stress the word me) serves as a sort of apology in advance for something you wish you didn't have to do, but have little or no choice in the matter. 

For instance, in the snippet below, Nina knows that by telling Cliff about the surprise party, she is being a total party pooper, but she uses this phrase to excuse herself in advance. It has a nuance of «It isn't my intention to ruin the surprise, but I just have to tell you...»

In this snippet, Nina knows her husband is going to hit the roof when he hears about the surprise party, but she feels that as his wife, it's her duty to warn him. You can hear this conversation in its entirety here

Cliff hates surprises and Nina knows it. Unfortunately, his parents are planning a surprise birthday party for him and she doesn't want him to walk into it blindly. 


Nina: Cliff, not to be a party pooper, but you should know that your parents are planning to throw you a surprise barbecue for your birthday.

Cliff: What?! You have got to be joking! You know how I feel about surprise parties.

_______________⦿ party pooper | someone who ruins a party, a surprise, or even other people's good mood⦿ barbecue | a festive occasion that features meat grilled outdoors⦿ You have got to be joking! | a more emphatic, emotional version of Are you kidding? Note that not contracting you have makes it more emphatic.

We have an interesting idiom that contains not to... on page 4 of 007: The Spy Who Didn’t Love Me, where a policeman showed up at my house because a neighbor complained about me skinny-dipping in my pool every morning. 


Nicky: May I ask what this is about? 

Policeman: The guy across the street called the station because he says you skinny-dip every morning, and, well... not to put too fine a point on it, but he’s sick of seeing you naked.

Here, the policeman uses the idiom not to put to fine a point on it, but… which is an apology in advance for when you’re going to be very blunt and direct. For more on this idiom, click here
Here, Alex could also have said Not to ruin your lunch, but… However,  far be it from me sounds much more sarcastic… and funny, in this case. Like he's enjoying this — especially if it wasn't true and he was just pranking his wife and daughter.

Nicky walks into the kitchen to find his wife and daughter enjoying some sushi and using a pair of chopsticks her brother brought her from Japan for the first time. Little does Natasha know that her son, Alex, used those very chopsticks this morning to put hairs out of the shower drain.


Nicky: Bon appétit!

Natasha: Thank you. I’m finally getting to use the beautiful chopsticks my brother brought me from his trip to Japan last year.

Nicky: Well, far be it from me to ruin your lunch, but I saw Alex use those same chopsticks to unclog the shower drain this morning. 

_______________⦿ getting to use | When you get to do something, you have an occasion or opportunity to do it. Here, for instance, Natasha got the chopsticks as a present some time ago, but hadn't had occasion to use them until now. This phrase is especially fitting when it's something enjoyable or pleasurable — Natasha's happy to be able to use and enjoy them finally.⦿ unclog | When there's hair, paper, or anything blocking a drain, the water can't run out and we say that it's clogged (up). So naturally, unclogging something refers to removing any such obstacle so that the water can drain freely. 

2a It's interesting to note that not to... is always followed by a but. However, far be it from me can stand on its own in the sense of «that's something I WOULD NEVER DO», whether it's meant in a sarcastic or genuine way. 

Far be it from me can be quite funny and/or sarcastic precisely because it sounds so formal and literary. Here, Ron uses it to be funny because he's definitely planning to take a cookie or two when they're done.

Marjorie baked a batch of cookies for her office Christmas party. Her husband, Ron, smells the cookies and goes to the kitchen to see what's cooking.


Ron: Are those cookies I smell?

Marjorie: Yes, and they're for the office Christmas party. I need to run to the store and pick up some other stuff. When the timer goes off, please take the cookies out of the oven and put them by the window to cool. And don't eat them! 

Ron: Far be it from me!

_______________⦿ timer goes off | Among the many meanings of the phrasal verb to go off is TO SOUND in reference to an alarm, clock, signal, etc. 

2b When far be it from me is meant to be genuine and not funny or sarcastic, it's used to make it very clear that it isn't your intention to do something, and that you would normally never dream of doing it, but you consider it too important or valid to not do it or say it.

Here, Oscar wants Bart to know that by no stretch of the imagination would he ever dream of telling him how to raise his son. But as a responsible uncle, he needs to let him know what he saw. 
⁕ ⁕ ⁕ We also use this phrase in contexts where you want to give someone advice on their work: Far be it from me to tell you how to do your job, but I think if you divided this report into paragraphs, it'd be easier to read.

Oscar saw his nephew doing something wrong and feels the need to tell his brother about it, but doesn't want to come off as if he's trying to tell him how to be a parent.


Oscar: Bart, I have something to tell you...

Bart: What is it? What's going on?

Oscar: Well, far be it from me to tell you how to raise your kids, but I think you need to have a talk with Alex. Yesterday, as I was leaving work, I saw him in the playground with his friends... and he was smoking a cigarette.

Bart: Is that a fact? Well, he's definitely going to hear from me! Thank you for telling me!

_______________⦿ by no stretch of the imagination | A very emphatic way of saying NEVER. You'll also hear never in a million years used this way. Note that after these expressions, we invert the subject and the verb.⦿ Is that a fact! | This is an emphatic way of asking REALLY? Note that it has the form of a question — and it is in fact a question, albeit a rhetorical one — but it's uttered as an exclamation that expresses shock or disbelief, depending on the context. Additionally, when used by someone in authority like a parent, boss, teacher, etc., it expresses an assurance of "Oh, I'm going to deal with this! Thank you for telling me!" [Here oh is an assurance like DON'T YOU WORRY! Learn more about this in point 2b here.]

How do you say this in your language? 

It may help others if you translate the snippets into your own native language below. 

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