Cinematic slang: Charmed, I’m sure

A poster for the movie Saturday's Children, in which the line Charmed, I'm Sure is heardAnyone who’s ever watched more than a handful of classic movies has very likely heard a character, usually a female and most often one with a thick outer-borough accent, say something along the lines of, “Charmed, I’m sure” when being introduced to someone for the first time.

This usage is clearly meant as something of a gentle laugh line; it nearly always indicates a character who is unsophisticated but would have us believe otherwise.

It’s depicted as an overreach, taking polite speech and giving it an inadvertent twist toward the uncultivated.

Less often, it is used as a chilly form of greeting, the “I’m sure” giving the lie to the “Charmed,” when a character is anything but happy to be encountering in public the person in question.

But have you ever heard anyone in real life use “I’m sure” in this fashion? “Nice to meet you, I’m sure.” “It’s my pleasure, I’m sure.” These usages crop up in old movies, too, but we have to admit we have never heard them used in real life.

Was this once a common usage? Where did the “I’m sure” come from, and what was its intended meaning?

We recently watched Saturday’s Children (1940), starring John Garfield and Ann Shirley, and in it, Dennie Moore plays Gertrude “Gert” Mills, a brassy office manager who speaks her mind in slightly fractured English and with a broad Brooklyn accent. When she is introduced to Shirley’s character, Bobby Halevy, who has recently been hired to work in the ofice and is reporting for her first day on the job, Gert greets Bobby with a chirpy, “How do you do, I’m sure?”

We did a little casual Googling and found a couple of references to “I’m sure,” but nothing definitive, alas.

Urban Dictionary has one explanation that we found intriguing, though, because it’s the usage that the Brooklyn gals so often depicted in old movies seem to be trying to pull off:

A warm greeting used upon being introduced someone. It is most often used in the context of a highly formal situation.

Madame: Miss Davis, Miss Miller.

Miss Davis: How delightful to meet you, Miss Miller.

Miss Miller: Charmed, I’m sure.

Maybe “I’m sure” was, in fact, once a formal and elegant phrasing. That would explain why it was considered humorous when a gum-snapping dame like Gert Mills used it in an attempt to appear more sophisticated.

So we have characters saying “Charmed, I’m sure” when they are anything but charmed. And, more often, we have characters using the phrase in an attempt to appear more sophisticated than they are.

But where are the characters using it genuinely?

Have you ever heard someone say, “Charmed, I’m sure” in real life?

If you have, by all means, share your story in a comment!

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6 thoughts on “Cinematic slang: Charmed, I’m sure

  1. I used it today on a bus to a woman who accused me of deliberately nudging her with my guitar case. I had not the faintest idea where I got that from so had to come here to find out. It defused the situation though. Better than the ultimate put-down of ‘God, you’re ugly’ …which can have catastrophic results.

  2. I always thought it sounded sarcastic and impolite. Like I’m sure somebody’s thinks it’s a pleasure to meet you but I don’t.

  3. it was originally used by royal princesses or young ladies of noble birth when a young man who might seek her hand in marriage when introduced by a mutual friend would say :
    “Charmed” ( meaning “I find you charming “
    And the lady would extend he hand to be kissed and say “I’m sure “
    Because of this it was later used in British , French and Russian upper class evening parties (a Soiree ) of the 19th/ early 20th century held at the mansions of the host and was used when a man and women were meeting for the first time upon being introduced . It was more or less flirtatious and flattering to the woman making her feel charming and that she was making a charming impression .

    By the 1920s in the USA it meant that the situation was delightful ” pleased to meet – im sure ” meaning ” I’m DEFINITELY pleased to meet you – no doubt in my mind” It was said in the mood and emphasis as valley Girls used to say “ OH FOR SURE FOR SURE “

    It was not until the 1950s that it became sarcastic and fell out of use in real life

    • Robert Franch,
      This is the most interesting explanation of the phrase that I’ve read. Can you direct us to sources?

  4. I didn’t realize this was primarily a non real world expression, as you say in cinema. I always assumed it was a rather self-absorbed woman stating she will be “Charmed” to meet you “I’m sure” (eventually), as if predicting that at some future point in time she will be glad she has met you.

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