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In an English grammar textbook, I found this example sentence:

Dinner's at 8 o'clock, but there's nothing planned for the afternoon, so you can all please yourself until then.

I googled please yourself and it seems to mean masturbation in some contexts. Do native English speakers use it in non-sexual contexts like the example above?

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Do whatever you want, I don't care –  Em1 Jun 1 '12 at 7:21
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Ricky Nelson found it appropriate in his song Garden Party: "You can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself" –  user21843 Jun 1 '12 at 11:29
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I would use the phrase "suit yourself" instead. "Dinner's at 8 o'clock, but there's nothing planned for the afternoon, so you can all suit yourselves until then." But then I'm a native American English speaker, so... –  user14070 Jun 1 '12 at 14:00
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"you can all do as you like until then" seems the most idiomatic in AE. (added it as an answer) –  Daniel Jun 1 '12 at 22:05
    
"Entertain yourselves" suggested below is another AE alternative which is definitely not sexual. –  noa Jun 2 '12 at 15:14
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8 Answers 8

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Please is simply a verb that means give pleasure. There is nothing to forbid the word from being used in a non-sexual context, and this is usually the case.

Please yourselves by browsing the books on the shelves.

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Another common expression is "You can do as you please until then." –  Jim Jun 1 '12 at 7:21
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I believe the OPs own googling disproved the idea that "this is usually the case." –  user14070 Jun 1 '12 at 13:57
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@JoshuaDrake More than 50% of the internet's traffic is porn. This is not true of offline communication. Ergo, Google results are not representative of how language is used. Self-evidently, they're only representative of how language is used online. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 2 '12 at 0:12
    
@JasperLoy and SevenSidedDie Although the OPs example shows that it has/d another meaning language is defined by its current common usage, and the internet is certainly the farthest reaching lexicon available. –  user14070 Dec 17 '12 at 16:52
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It's pretty much used in the same way as 'help yourself,' Which is can also be used for referencing masturbation (in Dutch, that is). It's like Oscar Wilde said: "Dirty mind is a joy forever"; you can give anything a sexual flavor if you want.

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No - "help yourself" and "please yourself" are different. To please yourself generally means to make your own choice about something. And although the Dutch equivalent of "help yourself" means to masturbate, this association doesn't exist in English. –  Dominic Cronin Jun 1 '12 at 12:54
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Please yourself means do whatever you want, whereas help yourself means take whatever you want. –  FumbleFingers Jun 1 '12 at 22:14
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"Please yourself," "do whatever you want", "entertain yourselves" ...all sound a bit out of place in your sentence (to my American ear). I would expect to hear "you may all do as you like until then."

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I would say that you could entertain yourselves for the afternoon, which just means to do something fun to avoid boredom.

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You can also use it in an idiomatically exasperated fashion:

"Do you want to come to the beach with me?"

"No."

"Come on, it'll be fun."

"Don't want to."

"Oh, please yourself!" <stomps off in a huff>

In this idiom, "please yourself" means "do whatever you like, then, see if I care!" It definitely doesn't mean "go <expletive deleted> yourself"...

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I think it’s the same as “Whatever!” — which, while not particularly pleasant, certainly isn’t masturbatory. –  tchrist Jun 2 '12 at 0:55
    
I think "suit yourself" is a better idiom in this context, but then I am not a native english speaker. –  Anup Jun 5 '12 at 19:01
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In British English, please yourself is always non-sexual. The sexual variant is pleasure yourself.

Joshua Drake has commented that it's different in American English, which might explain the OP's Google results, and KitFox's book quotes. Happy to edit this answer to reflect dialectal differences.

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I disagree strongly. Not always, just usually. –  KitFox Jun 1 '12 at 12:27
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@KitFox: Of 26 written instances of he was pleasing himself, only two are even in a sexual context at all. In one he's pleasing himself about how he uses her body, and in the other he's masturbating the way he wants (i.e. - it specifically means he's suiting himself, in both cases). –  FumbleFingers Jun 1 '12 at 12:50
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Thank you for proving my point @Fumble. –  KitFox Jun 1 '12 at 13:03
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At least one instance as a euphemism for masturbation. –  KitFox Jun 1 '12 at 13:19
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But the very next paragraph in Bloodlines contains "Andersen's" as a plural, which might be an indication of writing/editing quality. (The second example doesn't link to the text for me, probably a copyright issue) –  Andrew Leach Jun 1 '12 at 13:26
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Yes - English speakers use the phrase "please yourself" in non-sexual contexts. There may be sexual interpretations, but the phrase on its own would not usually mean that unless there were other hints in the context.

"You can please yourself" usually means: you can make your own choice about what to do. This by contrast with situations where you are expected to do what the group is doing, or the choice is somehow otherwise made by someone else.

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Most commonly, it is used in a non-sexual context. "Masturbation" is kind of a specialist use of the phrase, and certainly doesn't apply here. Googling "please yourself" may have given you results that were unreasonably skewed.

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-1: Masturbation isn't even a "specialist" use of the phrase "please yourself" - which as @Andrew says is always non-sexual. The sexual variant is always "pleasure yourself". –  FumbleFingers Jun 1 '12 at 12:04
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@FumbleFingers, I believe you are incorrect. I could post a link here, but I won't. The title of the link that I contemplated posting was "How to please yourself down there". I haven't clicked it, but I don't expect it to refer to visiting Australia. –  user16269 Jun 1 '12 at 12:13
    
I've no doubt that usage you cite is "tongue-in-cheek". If you personally use "please yourself" to mean "masturbate" I can't very well say you don't, but no significant number of native speakers would understand you unless the context was unmistakeable. In which case even if they did understand, almost all native speakers would think "I wonder why he used that odd form of words?" –  FumbleFingers Jun 1 '12 at 12:37
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"I was expecting my boyfriend to come over tonight, but he called and cancelled, so now I'm just going to have to run a long bath and please myself". I can't imagine that any native speaker would find this sentence odd. Inappropriate perhaps, but not odd. –  user16269 Jun 1 '12 at 12:54
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@FumbleFingers: That is a non-standard use of 'always'. What a competent native speaker 'knows' is unavailable to us, but utterances are. And there are some counterexamples. So, in my dialect of English, I would not use 'always', but 'mostly' or 'almost always' or 'usually but the alternate also occurs often'. Also, either phrase is not particularly common, so that many 'competent native speakers' would only vaguely perceive the prurient connotation. –  Mitch Jun 1 '12 at 17:22
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protected by RegDwigнt Jun 1 '12 at 13:59

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