"Can / May I ask you a question?"

Doug Harris cats22 at STNY.RR.COM
Sun Nov 30 23:54:05 UTC 2008

My wife does that often -- seldom to me, but often to others.
She also asks me questions to which I could not possibly know
the answer ("who peed on the floor?" when there are at least
two dogs and as many cats present, but the likelihood is that
one of the dogs did it, but which one I couldn't possibly know
because I was out of the house with her -- a fact of which she
is supposedly aware) and tells me things that would be obvious
to anyone north of a vegetative state ("The light is on in your
office" said as I walk out of the office).
Does that make sense? No.
And that's another construction that drives me toward resumption
of consumption of adult beverages: People interrogating themselves
then providing the answer. The answer alone, in most cases, would
be sufficient, as it is, after all, being provided in answer to -- or at
least as part of an answer to -- a question originally asked by someone
Go, as the man said, figure.

----- Original message ----------------------------------------
From: "Wilson Gray" <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
Received: 11/30/2008 4:44:11 PM
Subject: "Can / May I ask you a question?"

>When I held a service position - the only kind that there is in a
>library, according to the American Library Association - in Widener
>Library, often, patrons would ask me

>"Can / May I ask you a question?"

>That used to drive me *crazy*! How is it that people can have brains
>so weirdly wired as not to be able to understand that, when you ask a
>person whether you can ask him a question, you are, by that very act,
>asking him a question, regardless of whether he is willing to allow
>you to ask him a question?!! WTF?! The person asked that question has
>no choice but to say yes. There's no way that he can tell someone that
>has already asked him a question that he *can't* / *may'nt* ask him a
>question when he's already asked him a question by asking him whether
>he can ask him a question! It's a nasty trap that there's no way get
>out of.

>I sometimes tried to point out to people who asked me whether they
>could ask me a question that they had already asked me a question by
>asking me whether they could ask me a question. Hence, the person's
>request for permission to do what he had already done by the very act
>of requesting permission to do it was necessarily, in some sense that
>i lack the knowledge to specify, WRONG! But they never understood.
>They would smile and agree with me, but I knew that they were only
>jollying me.

>Sigh! Perhaps I'm the only person in the English-speaking world who is
>bothered by this, but



>All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
>come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
>-Mark Twain

>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list