You’ve been there haven’t you?
Standing at the counter waiting to be served in Costa. And the young man in front of you says to the barista, “Can I get a skinny latte?”
Now, you can tell from his accent that he is not American. So why this peculiar circumlocution – “Can I get a …”?
Surely it’s obvious that he can indeed get a coffee. Costa, understandably, goes to no inconsiderable expense to make it very clear what the nature of their business is.
Look, there’s a sign. And here’s a big menu on the wall listing their ingenuity in finding ever more sophisticated ways to serve their staple.
So, the young man can clearly see he’s not wandered into a butcher’s. Or for that matter, a baker’s or candlestick maker’s. Can’t be that then.
Perhaps he’s experiencing some sort of existential angst. Will his own actions determine the yes or no of whether he can get a skinny latte? Or is his life shaped by some exterior influence he is powerless to fight?
We don’t care, do we? But this particular transatlantic import irritates us (well, me at least). We are tempted to lean towards him and offer an Anglo-Saxon expression. (No, not that one. Though it’s tempting.)
The words in his ear would be: ‘just say: “I’d like a skinny latte, please.” Job done, concisely and politely and with no ambiguities. And now the rest of us can get served. Thank you very much.’
The moral? Say what it is you want clearly and concisely. Communicate, don’t complicate.