Which perturbs me, as well amusing my inner language/social geek.
Perturbs because it does seem like a lot of people fall into the "Can men and women really be friends?" trope. Not that I'm blaming the women in these cases - I'm fairly sure that the issue came up because they'd hung out with someone before and then only found out in mid-hangout that the other person was going to try and pounce on them. And it sucks that apparently women can't spend some time with a person without having to worry that said person is going to lunge across the table like a velociraptor with a taste for tongue.
Amuses me because it feels so weird to think that one person can just arbitrarily declare something to be a date. That you could have offered to go to the cinema and then have someone suddenly say "Ha! You're in a date! I have ensnared you in a romantic situation and now you are honour-bound to go through with all of the traditions of dating which go along with that!" I really don't think that's how dates work, and I wouldn't expect that to do anything other than embarass the person who tried it. Ok, it might work on a sufficiently young person who had never had to deal with an awkward situation before. But I'd expect any adult to deliver the verbal equivalent of a swift kick to the libido, and then either leave or change the subject (depending on quite how much of a douche the date-entrapper was).
Not, I have to say, that I really understand dating. I've been on dates _with a partner_ before. Things where the two of us have gone out to spend a nice time in each other's company at a nice restaurant/bar/beach. But in my experience the whole "That was a date." thing happens retroactively. You spend some time hanging out with someone and discover that you like them, and then that time you spent together becomes the first date. Or you don't have a spark and so it wasn't. I've never defined the hanging out as a prospective interview in advance, where both of us went into it expecting to find out whether we liked the other.
(Julie will tell you that our first meeting was totally a date. I'd say it turned into one halfway through, but I actually invited her out for a chat, and hadn't hand any further intentions at that point. It was only when we clicked at the meal that I started having date-like thoughts and invited her for a drink afterwards.)
In any case - my general feeling is that either you're going to click (in which case it's quasi-date-like) or you're not going to click (in which case it's hanging out with an interesting* person), and no amount of up-front pre-definition is going to make a difference there.
Bearing all of which in mind, I can only assume that someone checking in advance that it's not a date is someone letting me know that they've already thought about it, they don't fancy me, and therefore I should ignore any sudden urges that I have to prepare my tongue for battle. They're just saying it in a way that's as non-confrontational as possible. Because most men are incapable of dealing with direct rejection.
*I certainly have no interest in doing any of this with someone who isn't interesting.
Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comments there.