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Re: CHAT: English English

From:And Rosta <a.rosta@...>
Date:Thursday, December 7, 2000, 23:44
John Cowan:
> > Lars Henrik Mathiesen wrote: > > > Wild tangent: And what's with the delicatessen staff at my local > > Waitrose asking 'Can I help you at all?' when I come up to the > > counter? To me, that 'at all' sounds almost accusatory. > > Are they from Ireland by any chance? That use of "at all" is > Hiberno-English.
It's not unusual in English English. It's used to indicate that the questioner is not presuming the answer to be Yes. Sometimes it's polite: "Are there any biscuits left at all?", said by guest serves to absolve the host from badhosthood if the answer is No. But sometimes it seems rude -- for why would Lars be loitering around the deli counter if he is not in need of assistance by the counter staff? Is he planning to engage in theft, or indecent exposure? And indeed this locution is said, with trowelled on irony, by shop assistants to suspicious loiterers, by security guards to suspected trespassers, and so on. Of course the Waitrose staff are actually trying to be superpolite -- "You O customer are the lord of this domain, free to roam whither you will, but pray, permit me to enquire whether there is any service my lowly self may render unto you". --And.