Could there be an English expression (a verb or an idiom) for indirectly asking someone to do something that you want them to do that you find it awkward to ask them to do?

For example, let's say you're in a restaurant. And the seats are full and your waiter wants you to eat your meal faster and make your seat available for other customers, because you're there like a couple of hours.

The waiter doesn't have the stomach to ask you to finish your meal already, so he is asking you whether you're done with your meal, in an effort to hint that he wants you to finish your meal ASAP.

Is there a single verb or an idiom describing the waiter's action in this type of situation?

For example, could there be a verb or an idiom that fits in with this sentence?

The waiter ____________ that he wants you to finish your meal ASAP.

I was thinking along the lines of the verb 'hint' or 'insinuate', but I was wondering if there could be verbs/idioms that are more fitting in this kind of situation.

  • 2
    Waiter's request can be described as oblique request.
    – Ubi.B
    Commented Apr 5, 2019 at 9:09

4 Answers 4


I think that either hint or insinuate works quite well in this situation, and that you don't need to look for something else. Any different word is going to sound awkward and not be as natural a fit.

For instance, you could use euphemism:


: the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant

As in:

The waiter used euphemisms to suggest you finish your meal ASAP.

But that's not as natural or meaningful as the simpler hint or insinuate.

That aside, the only idiom I can think that applies (and it's the opposite, although the situation could be adopted to include it anyway) is beat around the bush:


beat about the bush or beat around the bush

: to fail or refuse to come to the point in discourse
// Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you want.


The only single verb I can think of is "inveigle" though that's not quite the same, since it would mean the waiter was successful. "The waiter inveigled us to leave." You could say the waiter was dropping heavy hints that it was time to leave.


Perhaps addressing the differences between the processes of implication and inference might be helpful.

An implication is a statement (or a whole bunch of statements combined) which suggests indirectly (or implies) a meaning which, for whatever reason, might not be appropriate, tasteful, or polite if stated baldly or bluntly.

A waiter in a hurry to clear your table for the next customer might imply his desire for you to leave posthaste by saying, "And how was your meal, sir (or ma'am)," with an emphasis on was..

If you are sufficiently astute, you will make a correct inference--an inference being by definition a possible, though not necessarily accurate, interpretation of an implication. In this instance your inference might be "Oh, the waiter wants me to leave." By the same token, however, if you lack sufficient astuteness, or the waiter is much too indirect (such that even a member of Mensa would not catch on to the waiter's implication), his implication failed and you made no inference whatsoever.

Indirect speech can be described in various ways and through a variety of words, such as:

  • indirection
  • circumlocution
  • oblique communication
  • evasive communication
  • communication by innuendo
  • a sidelong comment
  • circuitous phrasing
  • a roundabout way of getting to the desired point
  • periphrastic verbiage
  • a surreptitious technique (which implies a certain shadiness, which is not present in a waiter's hint, unless the waiter happens to hate you for being a lousy tipper, and a great tipper is waiting impatiently for a table--your table)
  • an insinuating comment (which is usually derogatory by nature)
  • ambiguous statements, which can be interpreted in at least two--and sometimes divergent--ways, such as when the waiter says "Are you finished with your dinner, sir?" and the diner assumes the waiter means "Are you ready for dessert?"

In conclusion, irony is perhaps the most complicated and potentially dangerous form of indirection, particularly when the ironist's league of potential co-conspirators are not sufficiently astute to infer that a spoken or written statement is in fact ironic.

Randy Newman (songwriter, movie soundtrack composer, conductor, pianist, and all-around wise guy) tends to use irony in many of his songs. Years ago he faced a good deal of opposition when his song "Short People" was played on some radio stations. That was in 1977. Forty-two years later, there are still people who are offended by the irony in Newman's song.


A bit late but… Indirect speech act.

For example, one might say "Could you open the door?", thereby asking the hearer if he/she could open the door. Nevertheless, this interrogative sentence also requests the hearer to open the window indirectly.

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