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Permission to Speak Freely

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Arnolf Karstark: May I speak my mind, Your Grace?
Robb Stark: Have you not been speaking your mind, Lord Karstark?

A Stock Phrase.

In the military, due to the chain of command, there is rarely a time where a rank and file soldier can speak his mind without disrespecting his superior. Cue this phrase. If the commander grants the request, it is understood that the soldier will not be disciplined for anything he says. This is often adapted to "Permission to do X," if used for comedic effect. A similar phrase, "Off the Record," can be used for similar purposes (usually in non-military situations).

Another related Real Life phrase is, "With all due respect, sir…" After which an NCO tends to say something nasty about the addressee officer.

Compare The Consigliere, who is employed to always speak with Brutal Honesty.

Note of caution: using it in Real Life is not a good idea. Neither is granting it, really. If subordinates are not speaking freely anyway, it is a pretty serious failure of leadership. Subordinates on the other hand need to know how to get the point across respectfully and unambiguously.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach anime episode #210. During the captain's meeting, Head Captain Yamamoto orders Captain Unohana to remain in the Seireitei and be ready to take care of any wounded. She asks for permission to speak, then asks if it would be better for her to go with the other investigating captains to the scene of the disappearances where there are more likely to be injuries to be healed. Head Captain Yamamoto declines her request: they can't risk her because of the uncertainty of the situation.

  • In the 1996 movie adaptation of Sgt. Bilko, newcomer Wally asks Bilko this stock question, to which Bilko responds "'Permission?!' What are we, in Russia? Say anything you want." Even so, Wally continues to ask permission throughout the film.
  • Used in Down Periscope, shortly after Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge pulled a rather risky and clever stunt to boost the self-confidence of his Diving Officer, Emily Lake. She corners him in his cabin, asks "Permission to speak freely, sir?" and after he grants it, kisses him rather passionately. After she salutes and leaves, Dodge muses "I should grant permission to speak freely more often."
  • In the film version of The Guns of Navarone Corporal Miller says "Permission to speak?" to Major Franklin, then tells him that he thinks the boat is unsafe and that he can't swim.
  • Used in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, with a slight twist on the response.
  • In The One, the junior MVA Agent, Evan Funsch, repeatedly asks his partner for permission long after having started to speak.
  • Star Trek (2009): Leonard 'Bones' McCoy to Spock after Kirk gets ousted from the ship.
    Spock: I welcome it.
    McCoy: Really? Ok, then: Are you out of your Vulcan mind?!
  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Commander Decker to Admiral Kirk after Kirk almost blows up the Enterprise.
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Saavik to James T. Kirk after the Kobayashi Maru test.
    • Notably, both of the above are examples of how to do this correctly. Both Decker and Saavik keep their tones respectful and their comments on point. In the first one, McCoy goes on to berate Kirk for his stubbornness, and Kirk finally gets the point. In the second, Kirk listens to Saavik, then explains to her why the whole point of the Kobayashi Maru test was to be unwinnable.
  • In Dr. Strangelove, General Turgidson asks the President for permission to speak freely, then proceeds to actively question the Russians' grasp of technical know-how, visibly angering the present Russian ambassador by calling them 'ignorant peons'.
  • Inverted in Captain America: The First Avenger, after Agent Peggy Carter returns from dropping off Cap behind the front line, the Colonel chews her out about the risky move and possibly getting herself and Rogers killed.
    Colonel: If you have anything to say, now is a really good time to keep it to yourself.
Kip voices his increasing suspicions when Helen leads them to a cave into the interior.
  • Cat Women of the Moon. When Kip voices his suspicions of Miss Salanger's navigational skills. (As it turns out, she's being mind-controlled by the evil cat-women.)
    Kip: I wonder if the commander would permit an observation?
    Captain Laird: Ah, come on, Kip, we don't have to get that formal.
    Kip: Well, I only wanted to point out that, from the angle the ship entered the crater, it would have been impossible for Miss Salanger to see that cave.
  • When the American submariners have captured and are running U571, Harvey Keitel's Chief Gunner's Mate Kleough speaks the exact words to Matthew McConaughey's Lt. Tyler, in order to point out that he's the ranking officer and therefore The Captain, and Tyler needs to start acting like it, even if he doesn't feel it.
  • A Few Good Men: Lt. Kaffee comes back to Cpl. Dawson, his client, with a deal; if he pleads guilty to a lesser charge (Dawson had accidentally killed Private Santiago when he and Private Downey were trying to give him a Code Red), Dawson and Downey will both get nine months. Dawson just looks at him impassively, even after Kaffee sarcastically points out it's a good deal. Then:
    Kaffee: Take it, Harold. It's nine months. It's a hockey season.
    Dawson: Permission to-
    Kaffee: SPEAK! Jesus!

  • In A Game of Thrones, Eddard "Ned" Stark asks King Robert Baratheon for permission to speak his mind. Robert wonders when Ned has not done so.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Happens several times in the Wraith Squadron books. Sometimes it's played straight, sometimes for laughs—the Wraiths are only Mildly Military.
    • Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader: Moff Tarkin to Emperor Palpatine, on the subject of the fleet commanders' opinion of Darth Vader (it's negative). The Emperor tells him to make it a habit.
  • Peter David loves this one. Two examples, of many, from Star Trek: New Frontier:
    • House of Cards: Shelby's reaction to learning that Calhoun will be commanding the Excalibur:
      Shelby: I feel I must inquire as to... that is, I'm curious as to the thinking behind... Permission to—
      Jellico: Yes, yes, speak freely.
      Shelby: Damn it, Admiral, what the hell is going on in Starfleet?
      Jellico: I didn't quite mean that freely...
    • Gods Above: Kebron rather abruptly tells Calhoun, "when we first met, I didn't like you." Calhoun, slightly taken aback, points out that usually, one asks for permission to speak freely first; he invariably grants it (under the circumstances, he'd have to, or he'd look like a howling hypocrite), but "it's the thought that counts."
  • Angua to Vimes in The Fifth Elephant:
    Angua: Permission to speak freely, sir?
    Vimes: Don't you always?
  • In one of the Star Trek: Klingon Empire novels, Captain Klag extends this permission to one of his officers, although since both were Klingons it was actually worded along the lines of "I will neither kill nor dismember you for what you say". It's mentioned that some captains will extend this permission and then kill the speaker anyway; fortunately for all concerned, Klag is not one of those captains.
  • In Wolf Hall, Cromwell asks Henry's permission to speak (with the "freely" implied) after reinforcing his earlier criticisms of Henry's military campaigns. Henry replies that he wishes someone would; he's not always in the mood for an Honest Advisor, but at the moment, he's impressed by Cromwell's boldness rather than further aggravated.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andor. Played for Laughs in a scene where an Imperial Security Bureau officer is chewing out Hyne, Karn and Mosk for their stuff-up on Ferrix. Mosk raises his hand to try ask a question like if they're at kindergarten; the ISB commander just snarks, "Seriously?" and Mosk slowly lowers his it.
  • A variation in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Obsession" in which it is shown that the First Officer and Medical Officer have the right to formally approach the Captain when they observe him acting in ways that they feel are harmful to the ship and her crew. Starfleet regulations even set out the words that must be used when making this approach.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Riker has a tendency to invoke this with various Special Guest Captains on the Enterprise when Picard got temporarily replaced for various reasons. This is usually because said temp captains almost always are complete dicks, who either don't know anything about the Enterprise's usual group dynamics, or don't care. In fact, this comes up all the time in the Star Trek franchise. Speaking your mind to a superior officer without asking this first is insubordination and can be punished appropriately and the senior officer can also revoke it at any time. A variant, "permission to speak frankly," also exists. The superior officer may also choose to deny the request, or may reply "Always," indicating an apparent blank check that they prefer for their subordinates to always speak their mind and they will not be punished for insubordination if they do so. It's also worth noting that many officers within the series have simply made this request then gone ahead and started speaking their minds without waiting for the requested permission.
    • Riker even once said it to himself, after it is discovered that the transporter created a duplicate of him eight years previously when he was still a Lieutenant, and Lt. Riker didn't like Commander Riker's command style.
    • One memorable example also occurs on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where Kira, wanting to discuss the possible replacement of Odo as security chief with a Starfleet officer, asks Sisko for permission to speak freely, and once, granted, erupts in frustrated rage at Starfleet's cluelessness.
    • Worf does this when going to have a private discussion with Kurn over why he's being constantly patronised by the Klingon commander. However, it's only when Worf loses his temper and challenges his superior that they really start speaking freely, as Kurn was just doing a Secret Test of Character to find out if Worf shared his Klingon values.
  • Several characters from Battlestar Galactica say this, especially Starbuck.
    • Notable in that unlike most examples of this phrase, her request is often denied outright.
  • Also occurs on Caprica, when an STO officer grants Lacy Rand this during a questioning.
  • Stargate SG-1 uses this occasionally when the team is discussing some awkward situation with whoever's in charge of the base that season. Or when they're about to say something really inappropriate. A personal favorite from O'Neil: "General Hammond, permission to beat the crap out of this man?" (Sadly, it isn't granted).
  • JAG: A frequent phrase on this show. Two examples:
    • In the Season 3 episode "Yesterday's Heroes":
      Lt. Bud Roberts, Jr.: [seeing Mac in her swimsuit] Permission to speak freely, Ma'am?
      Maj. Sarah 'Mac' MacKenzie: Of course.
      Lt. Bud Roberts, Jr.: WOW!
    • In the Season 7 episode "Guilt", Lt. Singer gets overly aggressive questioning Lt. Sims. In private, Commander Rabb tells Singer that she should've run that line of questioning by him. By bullying the sympathetic Sims, Singer has damaged their case. Singer asks for permission to speak freely. Rabb doesn't really care to hear whatever it is she has to say, so he denies the permission and dismisses her.
  • Blackadder Goes Forth:
    • The Blackadder Goes Forth also has Baldrick given permission to ask a question, "as long as it isn't the one about where babies come from" which leads to Baldrick asking how the war started.
    • And also Baldrick's first cunning plan from episode 1 where the permission is "Granted, with a due sense of exhaustion and dread."
    • In one episode, Blackadder is attempting to win General Melchett's favor and orders Baldrick and George not to talk unless given explicit permission. They take this literally and end up needing permission to answer basic questions like "How are you doing?"
    • In the same episode, Blackadder abuses his earlier order to steal credit for a painting George made in order to get out of the trenches, with George asking for permission to speak up in an increasingly frustrated fashion.
    • "Permission to shout 'bravo' at an annoyingly loud volume?"
  • Used for comedy in Red Dwarf, particularly when Rimmer is attempting to be polite to Captain Hollister, even asking his permission to look smug.
    • Also in the series 6 episode 'Psirens' when Kryten asks Rimmer for permission to voice his opinion, Rimmer smugly responds "Denied" and Kryten proceeds to speak anyway without missing a beat.
  • Something of a Stock Phrase for Chakotay towards Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. It may be that as a Maquis leader he has a hard time gauging the Starfleet-appropriate level of formality.
    • Chakotay is former Starfleet, so it's more likely a reflection on the notorious stubbornness of his captain.
  • The West Wing episode "Dead Irish Writers", has First Lady Abbey Bartlet having a private talk with some of the women staffers about the impending possible suspension of her medical license, and C.J. asks permission to talk to Abbey, and not the First Lady. Abbey gives permission, but doesn't like what C.J. tells her, and switches back to being the First Lady. A bit later Donna pipes in with:
    Donna: Oh, Mrs. Bartlet, for crying out loud, you were also a doctor when your husband said, "Give me the drugs and don't tell anybody," and you said, "Okay."
    An uncomfortable silence fills the room. Everyone looks at Donna.
    Donna: Oh my God. You switched back to First Lady.
  • The very Mildly Military aliens on 3rd Rock from the Sun occasionally used variations of this. In one episode, Sally was exasperated with Dick's command decisions and came up with the particularly memorable, "Dick, permission to bitch?!" (He grants it.)
  • Near the end of the Community episode "Remedial Chaos Theory", a follow-up scene from the darkest alternate timeline has Abed proposing they embrace their evil selves and destroy their good alternate identities. Jeff, who lost an arm in a fire here, asks if being evil lets them speak their mind, and when it does, he angrily tears into Abed for his relentless obsession with timelines in the face of all the tragedy that's befallen the group. Evil Abed is unfazed.
  • Parodied in the Doctor Who Christmas Special The Snowmen wherein a character asks for permission to make a statement in such detail that it renders actually making the statement completely redundant.
  • From season 5 of The Nanny:
    Maxwell: Niles, I don't know what the woman wants anymore. What am I supposed to do?
    Niles: May I speak freely, sir?
    Maxwell: Yes, of course, old boy.
    Niles: I am so bloody sick of hearing this year after year. "Niles, what am I to do?," "I told her I love her," "I took it back," "I'm afraid of commitment," "I'm worried about the children." For God's sake, make a move! Do something! You passed on Cats, do you want to regret this for the rest of your life too?!
  • From NCIS:
    Abby: Permission to speak freely, SIR!
    Gibbs: You always do, Abby.
    Abby: I know. I just always wanted to say that.
  • In "Electric Sheep," from The Orville, a number of crew aboard the Orville are upset about the android Isaac being reinstated as a crewmember aboard the ship after his people declared war on the entirety of sentient organic life and he initially helped. Ensign Burke asks Captain Mercer for permission to speak freely before laying out her own personal issues with Isaac still being onboard.

    Video Games 
  • Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams says this to Commander Shepard in Mass Effect when she wants to talk about aliens aboard the Normandy.
    • Kaidan utters this phrase the first time you ask him about his personal life.
    • Jacob from the sequel does that too.
  • In Psychonauts, Razputin asks Coach Oleander for permission to speak freely when Oleander's badmouthing Sasha Nein, permission Oleander promptly denies.
  • Parodied in Destroy All Humans!. Set a soldier on fire, and he'll ask for permission to drop and roll. He never gets it.
  • In the StarCraft tutorial, a Marine says this to the player around the time he's being moved near hostile terrain, before suggesting that the player may not know what he or she is doing and proceeding to give a lesson on attack modes.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Amhet, the future sultan asks the commander of the Janissaries why his troops are reluctant to serve him. The commander asks for permission to speak freely, then delivers a "Reason You Suck" Speech about why he thinks Amhet will be a poor sultan. For his part, however, when asked this Ahmet answered with "You'd better", meaning that he was expecting Brutal Honesty.
  • In Fallout 2, Sergeant Stark will say this if you become Captain of the guard and tell you that he doesn't think you deserve the position. Interestingly he'll say so even if you don't give him permission.
  • In Sleeping Dogs, Officer Teng asks this when Pendrew reveals Wei is actually an undercover cop. Pendrew says "Denied" so fast he almost cuts the question off.

    Web Comics 
  • Used for comedic effect in this somewhat infamous Penny Arcade strip.
  • Luci of Wapsi Square uses the phrase in a non-military setting. This is done to highlight her over-disciplined nature that is compensation for her criminal past.
  • In Angels 2200, when Sasha "Hammer" Carelli is called before the captain for a dressing down, she uses this phrase, to which the captain says yes, then proceeds to criticize the squad being given great expectations and little help, a criticism the captain rejects.
  • Schlock Mercenary: This shows up occasionally since the main characters are in a mercenary company with military-style ranks. At one point, one of their ship A.I.'s ask for permission, then gets a little worried with several Beat panels of no response—
    Cindy: Captain?
    Tagon: *sigh* The answer is always yes, but I still hate the question.
  • Used in a very direct manner in this Starslip page :
    Subordinate : Admiral sir. Permission to speak insultingly?
    Admiral : Permission granted.
    Subordinate : What the @&#$ were you thinking?

    Web Original 
  • A little kid asks Santa for permission to speak in the Doctor Steel Christmas Special.
  • In Red vs. Blue, this is almost Grif's catchphrase.
    "Permission to speak freely, sir? That's really fucking gross."
    "Permission to sigh and walk away, Sir?"
    "Permission to speak insultingly, Sir?"
    "Permission to speak freely, sir? Fuck that."
    • Usually denied, not that that stops Grif from following through anyway. The last one has Sarge approve since they were going to fight Charon Industries.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "New Kids on the Blecch", Lt. Smash says "Permission to say that's crazy, sir!"
  • Sometimes asked of the titular character on Babar by his subjects.
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Temporal Edict", Mariner makes this request of Ransom. Ransom, not without cause, replies "You always speak freely. Nobody can stop you from speaking freely!"