Ask nicely, boy

Photo by bixentro on Flickr, image used under a Creative Commons licence.

Yesterday I was listening to last week’s episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Helen Zaltzman’s The Allusionist, and I had an actual goddamn epiphany (last week’s episode because I am eternally tardy with my listening schedule).

Zaltzman was talking to Lynne Murphy, an American linguist, about the difference in the use of the word “please” in American English vs British English. Murphy has an interesting blog post on the topic from 2012, with a bunch of useful comments to scroll through.

“…I noticed myself and my English friends at our weekly gossip pizza get-together. If I ordered first, then I’d notice that everyone else had said please and I hadn’t. When my brother’s family came to visit a few months ago, I couldn’t stop myself adding please at the ends of their orders because they just sounded so terrible to me without them. And their orders were always without them.

What it boils down to is that Americans don’t say please with a request such as a restaurant order, because they are acknowledging the egalitarian nature of the order-maker/order-taker relationship. The server is not doing a favor for the customer, rather, the customer is providing basic information the server needs to do their job.[1]

The British do say please when ordering at a restaurant, because they are acknowledging the egalitarian nature of the order-maker/order-taker relationship. The server is not a servant of the customer; the customer is indicating the server is a free individual just as the customer is, and they do not have the right to order their server around.

Same exact desire to show egalitarianism, two completely different approaches. Opposite approaches.

And let me tell you, in New Zealand, it’s exactly the same as Britain. It’s a hang over from colonialism and the class system. If you leave off the “please” when ordering a coffee, you are telling the barista they are your lackey, and they should shut up and make your beverage quick smart, before you flog them on your way out to ride to hounds, by Jove.

I was not aware there was a difference in the use of “please” in the US (it appears my American co-workers are not just all rude sods after all). To Americans, adding “please” implies a power imbalance, as in a child making a request to an adult. It’s not a mere throwaway marker of civility, but signifies much more.

So, the reason this is completely fascinating to me is because of begging for cock.

I dearly wanted to include a quote and a link to a fanfic to illustrate an multitude of examples, but in general fanfic writers dislike their work being used outside of fanspace, so I’m going to just make one up here.

Imagine your needy bottom has been teased beyond endurance, and wants cock, like, yesterday:

“I need your cock,” Bryan whimpered.

“Ask properly,” said James. He ran his finger around the rim of Bryan’s hole.

“Please, please, please,” said Bryan. “Please, I need your cum so bad.” 

Me reading this last week: Huh. So… James has a politeness kink. Ok.*shrugs* Weird, but whatever.

Me reading this today: omg, so James is forcing Bryan into performing a linguistic act acknowledging James’s dominance, and thereby highlighting the nature of James bestowing his cum on Bryan as a precious gift!

Which raises the question: How many nuances in fic have I missed because I had no idea there was a language difference in one tiny little six-letter word? AND WHAT ELSE DO I NOT KNOW?

So American and English people (or Scots, Welsh, and other assorted residents of the United Kingdom), what are your thoughts? Do you agree with Murphy’s observations on the nuances of “please”? And am I the only human on the planet who had no clue about this?

please Margherita J.L. Lisoni FLickr CC.jpg
Photo by Margherita J.L. Lisoni on Flickr, image used under a Creative Commons Licence.



[1] Whilst acknowledging there is a lot of variation in language use within the US, which is not peopled by a single monolithic entity. Particularly it seems the southern states may use “please” more often.

3 thoughts on “Ask nicely, boy

  1. Katie

    I generally don’t say please when placing an order. In the US, children are taught that please is the magic word, and must be added when asking for a favor or treat. At the dinner table one should say “please pass the butter”, but it seems normal to ask your server “can you get some more butter for our table”.

    We say thank you quite a bit. Thanks is given when the order is placed, when food is served, when water glasses are refilled, and when they take plates away. We even say no thank you when the server offers someone that you don’t want. I see it as an acknowledgement of the services provided.

  2. 1. In regards to the saying “please” in restaurants thing, I think it’s more that the server wouldn’t be mad if someone didn’t say it but personally I always do because I’m not a rude asshole. But that’s me XD. Like Katie said, everybody says “thank you” a lot at restaurants.
    2. When a D-type tells an s-type to say “please,” I always read it as demeaning. Because in American society showing emotion and need is seen as weak, maybe? But yeah it’s making them admit they want something, which is acknowledging dominance because it’s the Dom’s choice if they want to give it to them.

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