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Journal Chacham's Journal: Complaint: People don't ask properly. 5

"Could you please shut the door?". "Please can you pass the salt". What's with the "can", "could", and "may"? It's so annoying!

When saying "please", it turns a command into a request. As such, the command "Pass the salt", becomes "Please pass the salt". There is no requirement to add "could" or "may". Why is this so hard to understand? Simply, take the command, and prepend the word "please".

The only thing i can think of, is that people do not want to impose, so instead of asking for a command, they are trying to evoke an emotion in the other person. So, whilst "Please pass the salt" is a direct command, mollified with "please", "(Please) would you be so kind as to pass the salt" isn't even a command, it's a question. Mayhap, that removes the "harshness" from the command. Or, put differently, it removes the "do me a favor" and makes it "i beg of your highness a charitable act for this poor soul".

Even so, the more proper way to say that would be "if you'd pass the salt i'd be grateful". Eh, so it's lacks the same effect. But, i guess, i don't really care. People should say what they want. If afraid of the demand, add the word "please". After a favor is granted, saying "thank you, i appreciate that" makes it all the better.

Please comment. :)

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Complaint: People don't ask properly.

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  • But the irony would probably be missed. ;-)

    I personally would love to live in a world where being overly polite to the point of imporperly phrasing a request was the worst we would do to each other.
  • I think the distinction is right up there with geeks who respond to questions like "Are you working on project A or project B today?" with "Yes. I will be working on either A or B today." That answer serves what point, exactly? Other than to make the person repeat the question and thus waste both people's time?
  • So why do you call it asking in your headline then?

    The English language develops in a random fashion. Something becomes official when enough people start doing it that way. Trying to apply logic to the way the English language works is like trying to hold back the wind with your hands.

    It seems to me that the use of this type of question to make requests has been the most common way of making requests in the English language for at least 400 years (if Shakespeare is any indication). According to the way th
  • If you are doing 'good,' then i expect you to be working hard to feed the hungry, tend to the sick, or some other demonstrably good works. But if i wanted to know that, i'd have asked you WHAT you wee doing.

    When people ask how i am doing, i respond with a polite, "I'm doing well, thank you. And yourself?"

    Since most people are walking by as they say it, i've had people stop midstride to think about this, and start responding with "Very well, thank you," when i ask them in turn.

    Propriety is not dead.


  • it's common in many languages. it makes the request more polite. apparently there is a limit to just how much politeness you can take before you get annoyed.

Never call a man a fool. Borrow from him.