True story: I went to the brand-new Starbucks next door to my office yesterday — its first day open for business. (Mind you, it's about 300 yards from my usual Starbucks, and less than 100 yards from the one that closed a year ago.) I go in. There's a guy finishing his order in front of me, a couple of others waiting for their coffees in front of him. No one behind me.
The guy in front of me finishes and shuffles over to wait for his drink. The young woman at the register is all smiles. She's the type that probably gets sick of being called "perky" all the time. And then she says, still smiling, "Can I help the next person?"
Just to be sure, I turn to look behind me. There's no one there. I'm absolutely the only person who could be "the next person." It's not like she wasn't sure who would be next, and didn't want to offend someone who really should have been next. It's just me. And she was looking (and smiling) right at me.
So why didn't she just say, "Can I help you?"
I have a theory (and, at long last, a point): People are afraid of saying "you." As if referring to someone in the second person is somehow too informal, or too imprecise.
Lawyers, I'm sorry to say, are the worst offenders. How many employment contracts have you seen that address the rights and obligations of "the employee (hereinafter referred to as 'Employee')"? This of course leads to preposterous pronoun proliferation: "Employee will be allowed to take his/her personal day as long as s/he has worked his/her shift the previous day."
(Please don't do that. Real English words don't have virgules — slashes — in them.)
Unfortunately, HR professionals often drink the same Kool-Aid the lawyers do. Personnel handbooks and policies often contort themselves to avoid saying "you." But there is nothing clearer than saying, "You need to do this. You can't do that." The reader knows who "you" is.
The French have two verbs that mean "to use the second-person-verb form": vousvoyer and tutoyer. English doesn't have one that I'm aware of (little help from you linguists out there?). Maybe we need a "youify" or a "youate." Whatever we call it, lawyers, HR pros, and perky baristas should start doing it.