“Can I tell you something?”
Why, yes, that person probably can tell me something. I bet they can tell me several somethings. There is, no doubt, an entire world of somethings for them to tell me, many of which I do not already know.
Of course there are some people who cannot tell you something. They are mostly babies or cavemen who have developed no form of communication. Since they cannot communicate, they will never ask you this question. This means that anyone who asks this question to you can, in fact, tell you something.
Before you answer yes, though, you have to realize they are not asking you to confirm that they have the ability to tell you something. They already know that about themselves, babies and cavemen excluded.
What they really want is permission to tell you something. Now, at this point in the conversation you have three options.
Option 1: Say yes.
Option 2: Say no.
Option 3: Pretend to have a serious medical condition (example: ruptured polyps, anteater flu, Hungarian rhinosinusitis) and ask to be excused to tend to the bleeding, vomiting, or other symptom that seems to have suddenly arrived.
Obviously, option 3 is the best choice for any situation. No one can argue with a disease, especially if they have no idea what that disease is. The more obscure the better.
After awhile, though, your friends will start to get suspicious.
“Ooooo, I would love to have you tell me something, but my TTTS is starting to flare up.”
“Your TTTS? Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome? I think I remember in medical school that this disease only effects twins in the womb…”
Clearly, you have been found out. You have made the classic mistake of lying to your one doctor friend about diseases.
Now you are cornered and have to choose either “yes” or “no.” Odds are that you want to say no. No one has ever said “Can I tell you something? I would like to give you the contents of my wallet.” It is always more along the lines of “Can I tell you something? You sort of look like that kid in ‘Mask’ that had elephantitis.”
Unfortunately, saying no is considered very uncouth. Apparently, asking if you can tell somebody something is really more of a formality and it actually means nothing.
That means the only answer left is yes. You were not really given a choice to begin with, but rather were just being warned that the person you were conversing with was going to tell you something. It is a very unnecessary warning since we all know how conversations work. Having a conversation where one person did not, at any point, tell you something would be very strange.
To make life less confusing, people should just say what they mean.
“I am going to tell you something. I have already told you several things, but this is a different something that you really have no choice but to listen to and it will begin being said right now.”