When I use a term, it means whatever I choose it to mean — nothing more, and nothing less – Humpty Dumpty, in Alice in Wonderland
Semantics matter. I’m sorry, but they do.
When a politician denigrates a group of people in an off-the-cuff remark, and then releases a weasely non-apology saying “I’m sorry if anyone interpreted my words as demeaning and took offense”, we rightfully object.
It’s the same in interpersonal communication. If Tom and Alice are close friends, and Alice is a vocal animal-rights activist, and in conversation with her Tom calls all animal-rights activists “deluded” and suggests that their moral code is inferior, I think most people would consider Alice justified in taking offense. And I don’t know about you, but I think she’d be rightly unsatisfied if his response was “If I had meant you, I would have said ‘including you'”. Normally, when you want to make a general negative statement about a group that your audience is a member of, without including them in the judgementm, you say something like “present company excluded, of course”. The exclusion is not assumed.
I hate it, hate it, hate it when people refuse to take responsibility for the full import of their words, claiming that since it wasn’t intended offensively, the listener should not have taken offence. It makes communication impossible, in my opinion. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, our words do not mean whatever we want them to mean.