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I came across the phrase, "I don’t suppose you could lend me a pound?" in the short story titled "Chalk and Cheese," contained in "To Cut a Long Story Short" by Jeffrey Archer.

The phrase appears in the following sentence that Robin, the young brother who is gifted in fine art asks his elder brother at his one-man show at a gallery to lend him money: Robin brags his brother on his talent:

"One of the things I most admire about you," said Robin, "is that you have never envied my talent."
"Certainly not," said John. "I delight in it."
"Then let’s hope that some of my success rubs off on you, in whatever profession you should decide to follow." "Let's hope so." said John, not sure what else he could say. Robin leaned forward and lowered his voice.
"I don’t suppose you could lend me a pound? I’ll pay it back of course."
[Note: actually Robin has never paid back his repeated small loans from his good-natured brother.]

As I’ve never heard "I don’t suppose you could lend me a pound?" as an expression for asking somebody for lending money, I checked the usage of the phrase with Google NGram to find no result. The very beginning phrase, "I don’t suppose" sounds to me somewhat rounabout and disingenuous.

Is "I don't suppose you could lend me a pound?" a well-used pattern of phrase in Both England and America in borrowing money from someone whoever intimate with you or not?

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OP specifically notes that Robin has never previously repaid. Presumably because Archer wrote in such a way that OP himself already expected the answer to be "No! You never pay it back!". Robin's cliched phrasing nicely echoes his cliched repetetive failure to repay. I'm not sure I like the man, but Archer does have writing skills. –  FumbleFingers Aug 11 '11 at 23:40
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4 Answers

It is roundabout and disingenuous. You've noted an important thing in that the character has never paid back those loans. It's kind of a verbal equivalent to a dog's tail tucked between his legs. (If that image crosses cultural boundaries.)

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Yes, "I don't suppose you could...?" is a common, self-deprecatory preface to a request like this. In one of the 'Billy Bunter' stories, the answer is "You must have been oiling your supposer: it's working perfectly!" [i.e. "No, I couldn't/ won't lend you money."]

PS Not a verbatim quote; it's been a long time since I studied Frank Richards' oeuvre.

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Yes, "I don't suppose you could..." is a somewhat common way of asking someone to do something. It's used to avoid sounding like you are expecting or demanding that they do the thing, or if you are embarrassed to have to ask them to do the thing.

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Let's not get too bogged down with the specific sentence here. The main issue is about starting a request with "I don't suppose..." Googling in quotes gets 127K hits, of which maybe 15-25% are polite/hesitant requests. Obviously the usage is alive and well, though I feel it is just a little dated and mock-deferential.

Interpreted literally, it's a helpless and bereft supplicant with no hope, save that his intended benefactor might contradict him and actually do whatever the supplicant assumes they won't.

The "...you could..." part just amplifies the "deference" by introducing the conditional verb tense as used in the alternative Would/Could you lend me...?" (see @Dusty's answer here). I'm seeing a lot of Google hits for quotated "I don't suppose I/you/we could", and most of them seem to be requests, not statements of belief. Again, the usage does occur quite often.

TL;DR: It's a well-used expression. Right up to the bit about lending. Well-brought-up Anglophones don't tap other people for loans like this.

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An even more prolix and buffered form would be "I don't suppose you could see your way to lending me a pound?" –  Colin Fine Aug 12 '11 at 13:36
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Or "I don't suppose there's any chance you could see your way to lending me a pound, perhaps?" –  FumbleFingers Aug 12 '11 at 14:20
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