By Daniel Rigney
Clichés are mental energy-savers. They reduce our need to think afresh. I rely on them constantly, as we all do. One of my favorites is “if I’m not mistaken."
What especially intrigues me about IINM is that it is always literally true. Thus, “if I’m not mistaken, Barack Obama was born in Finland.” That’s if I’m not mistaken. If I am mistaken, then he was born somewhere else, like Hawaii. But in either case I’ve told a technical truth.
Unless I'm mistaken, the moon is made of bleu cheese. Technically true as stated.
Either I'm mistaken or I'm not. Either way I remain safely under the majestic cathedral ceiling of truth.
Paradoxically, while IINM is logically or tautologically true, it also tacitly acknowledges fallibility. It says I could be mistaken. It says I may be wrong. In the cliche's emotional aspect, it represents a small admission of vulnerability. "If I'm not mistaken" gives us a way to save a little face if we turn out to be wrong about something.
If you search the web for exact matches of "if I'm not mistaken," you may be surprised at some of the odd and improbable things people believe, if they're not mistaken, hedging their bets in case their views are later discredited.
Of course, I could be wrong about all this. IMHO