One day I tried to ask a question on a different StackExchange site and got a message:

It looks like you might need a break - take a breather and come back soon!

What an awfully nice suggestion! This sounds very polite, but it is a lead-in to more aggressive language.

You've asked 3 questions recently, some of which have not been received very well by the community. Everyone learns at their own pace, and it’s okay to make some mistakes. However, the reception your questions have received thus far might ultimately block your account from asking questions entirely.

Starting out by suggesting I "need a break", the web site's automated message continues, they are going to close my account if I do not adhere to the web site policy.

Granted that I am curbing my behavior on that particular forum, what is the term for polite language they are using? Starting out with a polite suggestion they make their way to the more serious topic at hand.

Another example is Can I help you? It sounds very polite, but it's often a euphemism for What are you doing here? or something else.

Here's an article I found on Forbes: The Absolute Worst Question To Ask: How Can I Help You?

Before I got off any call, I would always ask people how I could help them. In my mind, it was simple. I like building relationships that are meaningful — not just transactional — and some of the most valuable partnerships and client opportunities have materialized because I helped someone and formed a trusting relationship.

However, I’ve realized this isn’t the best question to ask. While some people are receptive, most people assume I’m trying to sell them with that question. It’s unfortunate that the business world revolves around hidden agendas where asking someone how you can help immediately elicits the response, “What do you want from me?” or “What are you selling?”

What is the term for this type of polite segue?

  • 1
    It's a lot like letting 'em down slowly, but I don't know of any term more specific than that.
    – Carl Smith
    Commented Nov 6, 2014 at 22:23
  • 1
    I'd go with "building rapport" - in this case it is a more specific and on point raport than "hey, hope you're enjoying our site" or "how's your Tuesday going ?" but it has some of the same nature. It has some elements of "Breaking the ice" - a tap on edge of the issue before diving in but that isn't really right. I googled the subject and the first hit had both those terms I thought of separately. skillsyouneed.com/ips/rapport.html The link probably does a better job than an answer I could write
    – Tom22
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 20:00
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    I think "can I help you" is a large step to the side of the first "You look like ... " The biggest difference is that there is little attempt for ~commonality~ and some human 'empathy' by observation in a way that suggests "we've all been there" in American custom at least. "You look confused, can I help you" is more similar. "Can I help you" might be more an icebreaker if you see someone searching under a bench looking for a lost contact .. but it is still more direct, even if the "help" there has some empathy - The word help, has most of its empathy washed out when the persons job .
    – Tom22
    Commented Nov 15, 2018 at 20:08

1 Answer 1


This would seem to be a circumlocution for something more direct.

cir·cum·lo·cu·tion ˌsərkəmˌləˈkyo͞oSH(ə)n/ noun plural noun: circumlocutions

the use of many words where fewer would do, especially in a deliberate attempt to be vague or evasive. "his admission came after years of circumlocution" synonyms: periphrasis, discursiveness, long-windedness, verbosity, verbiage, wordiness, prolixity, redundancy, pleonasm, tautology, repetitiveness, repetitiousness "when you've finished your circumlocution, maybe you could just get to the point"

Origin late Middle English: from Latin circumlocutio(n-) (translating Greek periphrasis ), from circum ‘around’ + locutio(n-), from loqui ‘speak.’

Source of definition - Google Search dictionary.

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