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Can vs. may

A young person asked, “Can I have a juice box, please?”

The adult answered, “May I have one of those juice boxes, please?”

The chastened young person then repeated the adult’s response, replacing their “can” with the adult’s overemphasized “may.”

Only then did the child receive their juice box.

My impression of the moment – witnessed last week – and all moments like these:

It’s true. The word “may” is more polite than “can”, particularly in instances like these. But “can” isn’t at all impolite. It’s a perfectly reasonable way to ask for something, and it’s used by people all the time.

It’s an absolutely acceptable means of making a request.

But do you know what’s incredibly impolite?

Refusing a request until the person making the request switches from “can” to “may.”

Do you know what’s incredibly impolite?

Requiring someone younger than yourself to conform to your minor shift in vocabulary such that their request is marginally more polite and more aligned with your personal preference.

Do you know what’s downright rude?

Responding to someone’s thirst with an unnecessary lesson on manners.

C’mon, people.