"Oh, by the way" is a universal prelude to upsetting news--a chiller phrase that crops up in letters from your kids and phone calls from auto mechanics as well as conversations at the office.

The office world, however, has spawned countless other preambles of its own that are equally ominous. Some of these attempt to disassociate the bearer of bad news from the news itself. Many display a desire to soften the blow that follows. Yet you always know that what's coming is bound to displease you.

Here are just a few of these alarming openers:

"I know you put a lot of effort into this . . . "

"The basic concept is fine . . . "

"I really fought for your raise . . . "

"How often do I ask you to burn the midnight oil?"

"I'm not saying it's your fault . . . "

"It's a silly rule, but . . . "

"Everybody has a bad day once in a while . . . "

"I only have a few little nits . . . "

"This is good for a first draft . . . "

"I took the blame for this myself . . . "

"I guess you'll have to chalk this up to experience."

"You know I always back my people to the hilt."

"Nobody ever said the job was going to be easy."

"I should have known better than to approve something when I had misgivings."

"Drop everything you're doing!"

"Don't open the champagne yet."

"Personally, I think you're doing a terrific job."

"Please don't be discouraged . . . "

"It's almost there."

"Go ahead and finish your lunch and then I'll tell you about it."

"I know we were told that money is no object . . . "

"You're the only person who could pull this off."

"Nobody bats a thousand."

"Well, you win a few, you lose a few."

"Your work is acceptable . . . "

"I know it wasn't an easy assignment . . . "

"Naturally it takes some time to get into the swim of things . . . "

"I admit I went along with your idea . . . "

"I don't like to be critical . . . "

"I still think you were the best qualified for the job . . . "

"Don't take this too hard . . . "

"I think you should know . . . "

"There's no need to worry . . . "

"I wouldn't ask this if it weren't a crisis."

"I hate to bring this up . . . "

"I think you'd better sit down."

Perhaps, to compensate for all the times our personal seismographs have quivered over these rumblings, there should be an additional office holiday--a national "Oh, By the Way Day."

Trouble is, it wouldn't be announced until about 4:45 on the day it was being held.