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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.


Anime and 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.

Fan Fiction

  • In the Lyrical Nanoha fanfic The Name Of War, Nanoha and Vivio's mother-daughter relationship has grown strained since Vivio enlisted in the Bureau. Vivio, ends up saying this to Nanoha, referring to her by rank, when stating her intent to file a report over an incident during the Sol and the Luna's test flight.


  • Used in Down Periscope, shortly after Lt. Cmdr. Tom Dodge pulled a rather risky and clever stunt to boost the self-confidence of his (very hot, very female) 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 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!"
  • Star Trek (2009). Leonard 'Bones' McCoy to Spock.
  • 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.
  • In The One, the junior MVA Agent, Evan Funsch, repeatedly asks his partner for permission long after having started to speak.
  • 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.

Live-Action TV

  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Riker had a tendency to invoke this with various Special Guest Captains on the Enterprise, when Picard got temporarily replaced for various reasons. This was usually because said temp captains legitimately were complete dicks, who either didn't know anything about the Enterprise's usual group dynamics, or didn't care.
  • Several characters from Battlestar Galactica Reimagined 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 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!

  • I'm 99% sure this was used in Blackadder Goes Forth, with Baldrick asking the question.
    • 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" this leads to the Crowning Moment of Funny where Baldrick asks 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.
  • 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.
    • Possibly. But he's also a Starfleet Academy graduate, so YMMV.
  • 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.



  • Happens several times in the Wraith Squadron books. Sometimes it's played straight, sometimes for laughs - the Wraiths are only Mildly Military.
  • 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: "Dammit, Admiral, what the hell is going on in Starfleet?"

Jellico: "I didn't quite mean that freely..."


Video Games

  • Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams says this to Commander Shepard in Mass Effect when she wants to talk about aliens aboard the Normandy.
    • Mass Effect's Kaiden 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.

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.

Web Original


 "Permission to speak freely, sir? That's really fucking gross."

"Permission to sigh and walk away, Sir?"

"Permission to speak insultingly, Sir?"


Western Animation

  • In The Simpsons episode "New Kids on the Blecch", Lt. Smash says "Permission to say that's crazy, sir!"
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