I rewatched the 50th anniversary special of Doctor Who, in which the following dialogue occurs:

Warrior: The Dalek fleets are surrounding Gallifrey, firing on it constantly.

The Doctor: The Sky Trench is holding, but what if the whole planet just disappeared?

Clara: Tiny bit of an ask.

What exactly does the last sentence mean, or is it just made up?

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  • Please add more context to the question e.g. what show? full quotation etc. I would usually use a phrase like this as a 'hedge' - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedge_(linguistics) if I was going to ask something that was probably unreasonable. – Jascol Feb 18 '16 at 14:52
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    In the US, particularly among fund-raisers who solicit charitable or political contributions, an "ask" is jargon/colloquial for a request or solicitation. It probably appeared as a neologistic repurposing of a perfectly good verb as a snappy-sounding verb, patterned on the fact that its synonym "request" can be both verb and noun. – Rob_Ster Feb 18 '16 at 15:00
  • It's wordplay based on the primarily BrE colloquialism a big ask, beloved of sports commentators when referring to a team / player that has little chance of success. – FumbleFingers Feb 18 '16 at 15:10
  • Whatever it does mean, it don’t think it means (as logic might otherwise lead us to believe) the opposite of “a tiny bit of a tell,” which is what a bad bluffer might have. – Papa Poule Feb 18 '16 at 16:58

This is a fairly common phrase, though phrasing constructs are a little more relaxed in the Uk and Ireland than most other English speaking areas.

something is "A tiny bit of an ask" if it is something that would be considered not expected of someone but you ask them to help you anyway or if you are hoping to be lucky or achieve something you may not entirely deserve.

It does not have a literal translatable meaning. Its a mixture of social conventions, whimsy and euphemism.

Example If i make a bet on 10 coin tosses and only need 5 wins to win then I have a 50% of waliking away with the winnings. If I however lose the first 4 tosses then I need 5 out of 6 wins, which is a bit of an ask. In other words it is not very likely but it is still possible. I would be asking chance/fate to do me a favour.

Calling it "a bit of..." is simply a turn of phrase. It is a soft euphemism for "too much of..." or "quite a large...".

Some of this comes from the politeness of the culture. If it was genuinely a small ask(favour) it would not be mentioned, maybe instead someone would say (hoping for the best, we will see how it goes) but if its a complete improbability is "a bit of an ask, you should keep your expectations in check"

  • As an American unfamiliar with this use, could one substitute "a small favo(u)r" and have the same overall sense? – cobaltduck Feb 18 '16 at 15:11
  • Not necessarily. In some cases it could be used in the same way but you would not be asking the laws of chance or physics for a small favour which the phrase can also be used to mean. For example, expecting an unlocked bike to remain unstolen in the worst part of town would be "a bit of an ask" ie its unlikely. A massive favour would be closer to "a bit of an ask" than a small favour – Anton Feb 18 '16 at 15:17
  • 0. Chances of winning at least 5 out of 10 coin tosses are 62.3%. 1. "(too) big of an ask" is used in U.S. and a "tiny bit of an ask" feels British in meaning-forming. – A.S. Feb 18 '16 at 17:19

An "ask" is simply a request.

A "tiny bit of an ask" would be like saying "I have a small request."

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    Using "ask" as a noun isn't extremely widespread, but it is recognized more and more. Some people, like me, find it extremely annoying. – BradC Feb 18 '16 at 15:09
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    That is not what this phrase means. It is an idiom/euphamism and the "tiny" part generally refers to it being "a tiny bit more than one could hope to reasonably expect". In other words, "I have a fairly sizable request" is a far more accurate translation – Anton Feb 18 '16 at 15:18
  • "Ask" is used widely in trading: "bid and ask", "ask price", etc. – A.S. Feb 18 '16 at 17:33

In addition to the ironic use as a description of someone else's predicament, it can also be used as a covertly manipulative phase. The asker is setting up their request by implying "I have something I think is important (pregnant pause)" It is a form of baiting that sounds chummy but exploits fear, obligation and guilt. It is intended to get you to commit to something before being told the facts, or to suppress any thoughts you might have of dismissing the request out of hand.

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