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Old August 23rd, 2019, 07:31 PM
Ryan McGill
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Default [Dixonary] OT: "may" used in third person/second person request for permission?

Have any of you experienced someone using "may" as a second- or
third-person request for permission? I'm specifically interested in the
habits of educated speakers and occurrences older than 20 years, as both
fall outside of my experiences.

My understanding of "may" is mainly in two forms:

First, as a statement of nonspecific probability, wherein any person is a
valid expression, for example, "They, he, she, we, you, or I may be going
to the park later." In this case, any of the pronouns will work
independently, and not only as that absurd list.

Second, as a negotiation of permission, for example, "May I hold your
hand?" and its response, "Yes, you may." And this is the form in which I'm
specifically interested.

It almost exclusively takes the form of a first-person request followed by
a second-person permission or denial. "May I?" "Yes, you may." "No, you may
not."

(Less often used is a third-person request, but I've only ever seen it with
proper nouns—always along the lines of, "May Sally come out to play?"
instead of the less-descriptive, "May they come out to play?" I assume this
is primarily circumstantial, as it's always in a situation with an
imbalance of power, and usually only seen within parent-child dynamics
wherein one child is asking another child's parent for permission. I
believe this process may be waning due to the use of "can" eclipsing that
of "may" and the advent of cell phones and a greater emphasis on personal
accountability. And probably the specificity of a parent-child
relationship. Adulthood is quite different. You wouldn't go to the Director
of Marketing and say, "May Joe come consult on this presentation?" You'd
just talk to Joe. Or you'd ask the Director's opinion. Or you'd ask the
Director to clear some scheduling time for Joe, but that would still be a
request on your own behalf, "May I have a some time to get Joe's take on
this?" But I digress.)

In any case, some 12 years back, I noticed a tendency among my children to
say "May you . . .?" And my partner's niblings do the same. And now, oddly,
my 60ish manager is doing it, too.

Is this new? Have any of you experienced this construction? When and where?

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