Ominous questions

Today’s Dilbert:

“May I speak frankly?” is one of those seriously ominous questions: the person who asks it is ready to unload some very unpleasant frank opinions, as above. Even worse, it’s very difficult to say “No” to this question — because it doesn’t really function like a yes-no question, but at best serves to ask for permission to speak, and even then presumes that the permission will be granted, so that its effect is to announce that you’re going to speak.

“May I speak frankly?” is first cousin to another family of ominous speech acts. From my 3/19/13 posting “Can we talk?”:

There’s the ominous question “Can we talk?” between intimates, conveying “Let’s talk!” — suggesting a subject that the recipient will find distressing. (“Can we talk?” is often an opener to a break-up speech or to personal criticism.)

… three previous variants (notably, “we need to talk”) on this blog: a Leo Cullum cartoon (here), a Zits (here), and a Bizarro (here).

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