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Linguistics: Offering Assistance

My mother always taught me that saying "Do you need help?" was rude. It implied that the person needed my assistance. She always preferred "Do you want help?"

Last night I was turning it over in my head. "Do you want help?" could also be offensive. It insinuates that the person desires my assistance. Is "Can I help you?" better because it insinuates that the person offering wants to help and is looking for consent? Should I not even be offering help to a stranger in the chance of offending and should I wait for the person to ask for my assistance?

The scenarios that come to mind are riding CTA (Chicago public transportation.) If a person riding the CTA alone appears to be having difficulty with the doors, their bag, a chair, etc. In that type of situation what is the best course of action?


I also have an issue with how quickly assistance is offered for those with clear socially accepted visual indicators versus a person who perhaps is not elderly or in a wheelchair. Not that I'm perfect because I know I pay more attention to someone with a walking aid boarding the bus than a person that appears to be able bodied.

There are many possibilities here and one of them is that I am just over thinking this whole thing.

This is what happens when I can't sleep.

Pretty much I don't want to be like this:

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