According to dictionary.com, it is an idiom, “used as a polite expression, as when addressing a stranger, when interrupting or disagreeing with someone, or to request repetition of what has just been said.”
I do not see it as polite at all.
1. How can you say it is ever “polite” to interrupt or disagree with someone? That is always going to be seen as negative by the person you are disagreeing with, no matter how much sugar you put on it.
2. I do not ever hear excuse me used out of “politeness”.
Used out of anger and impatience, mostly.
The customers at the grocery store who want to get past you are not saying it to be polite. They are not bothering to waste their breath on a full statement, such as, “Excuse me, may I please get by?” They are just barking out “excuse me”, then trying to squeeze between the two carts that are still in front of them at full speed. “Excuse me” is not a magic phrase meaning “everyone get the hell out of my way!” If it is the day before Thanksgiving and you are in the baking aisle at Meijer, “excuse me” isn’t going to get you anywhere. If there are people with carts in front of the people with carts who are blocking you, THEY ARE BLOCKED! Incessantly repeating “excuse me” like a broken record is not going to make the rapture come and beam people out of your way. Trust me, if they could get out of your way and away from you snarling those two rudest of words, they would.
I try not to use “excuse me” ever. Sometimes I use it in a store just to get someone’s attention. But my voice is always too quiet, and then I just feel dumb that I talked and no one heard me. I feel like I suddenly became invisible.
And really, in that context, to be perfectly honest, I am using “excuse me” to tell a stranger “you are in my way.” And that is how we are all using that expression. Be honest here. Unless you are trying to give someone back the $100 bill they just dropped, you are not using it as a courtesy or out of kindness. You are being rude and pushy and have the same “get out of my way” attitude as everyone else.
Maybe it is just me, but I always think of “excuse me” as the rudest thing anyone could say to me. It makes me just want to stab them.
The second rudest?
Probably, “Here, have a tissue.” Ack!