Frequently in elementary school, well-intended teachers make you ask permission to go to the bathroom using “May I…?” rather than “Can I…?” (which is what everyone wants to say), leaving grammatically-inept children looking like this:
Now the OED has given the final word on the correctness of “Can I go to the bathroom?” in their post Can or May?
The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) says that “the ‘permission’ use of can is not in fact incorrect in standard English. ”
I love the British, but for my poor American ears, can we say this more clearly?
not + incorrect = correct (two negatives, right?)
So, “the ‘permission’ use of can is in fact correct in standard English.”
They go on to say that using can in an “asking permission” context is more informal, whereas using “may” is more formal.
Thank you, OED, for giving us the final word word on the topic. If anyone tries to correct you now (I have a certain annoying high school geography teacher in mind, or a number of elementary school teachers), you can just say that the OED says it’s fine. So it’s fine.
So let elementary school children ask away: “Can I go to the bathroom?” and don’t make them sit there and wait while they repeat the “correct” sentence back to you (“May I go…”)
Little kids have tiny bladders.