Wednesday, September 04, 2002


Do any of you – I mean ANY of you little darlings out there still know what a question is? At all? Are you familiar with the usage, the intent, the meaning of the word?

Here, I'll give you some assistance, because I know to what depths our educational system, particularly in the realm of English vocabulary and grammar, has sunk. The most common dictionary definition of the word is "An expression of inquiry that invites or calls for a reply" (emphasis mine).

“Reply,” of course, commonly meaning a response or answer, the underlying assumption at work in the whole question and answer process being that the querent, or person asking the question, is seeking information he or she does not currently possess, or perhaps a new opinion, from the queried, or person to whom the question is being posed.

I am perhaps falling into the habit of the pedant in troubling to lay all of this out so clearly, but there would appear, judging from my own recent personal experience, to be a lack of clarity on these very points, to wit, a conversation I just had on that most infernal of time wasters, that most punishing product of human insanity masking as ingenuity, that most pernicious of pointless pieces of desk equipment, the telephone.

“Kate,” the conversation – no, perhaps that is not the right word, implying as it does an exchange of words (“con” meaning “with”) rather than an utter monologue – began, innocuously enough, “Do you have a second?”

So far, so good; if I didn’t have a second, I would have let the answering machine take the call (oh, the glory of hindsight. If only, if only... but really, while I’m not going to get this half hour of my life back ever, what else was I going to do with it? Pet my dog? Oh wait, yeah, I was taking care of business in the form of visitors to my office who were actually seeking information). Easy enough, then, to answer this first question: “Yeah, I have a second.”

“Good, because I have a question or two for you...”

Which seemingly innocent, clear and self-evident statement was followed by around 20 minutes of incoherent rambling that may have seen to the party on the other end of the phone to be a narrative (but certainly not a question) but which seemed to me the most tedious thing I have ever endured since the last... you know, I can’t think of any comparison to make to finish this sentence? I really can’t. Either a significant portion of my precious brain capacity dribbled out of my ears while this person was babbling, or this really was the most tedious thing I have ever, ever endured – and I was a literature major at a fancy liberal arts college and used to report regularly on the doings of the Massachusetts State Legislature (Wyoming’s, thank the gods, only meets two months out of the year, and so experiences a certain sense of urgency during its proceedings that produces a comparative reduction in fillibustering, etc. as they run up against the Constitutional deadline for their sessions - Vote NO on Amendment “A” for pity’s sake. If they can call themselves into special session without the governor’s approval they’ll never shut up!).

At the end of this blather, I did hear that characteristic rising inflection of voice which, in generations prior to mine, almost invariably signals that the statement being made is in some sense an interrogative one (but in my generation almost invariably indicates that the speaker is making a tremendous effort not to seem domineering or controlling or subscribing in any way to the outdated and non-post-modern notion that there can be such things as “right” or “wrong” opinions, “true” or “false” statements, “good” or “bad” ideas, etc. by being so crass as to be – gasp! – direct or declarative).

But there was, really, nothing for me to say. He had not asked my opinion or my input, was not seeking information, was not even trying to catch me out in saying something stupid or agreeing with some ludicrous proposal like launching a pre-emptive strike against the nation of Liechtenstein if it did not allow us to station troops along its border with Iraq.

He basically just wanted to rob me of a half hour or so of my time in the interests of, of, I don’t know in what interests, actually.

Maybe he was trying to distract me from the little gnomes he’d smuggled into the storage room of my office the last time he was physically here so that said gnomes could go undisturbed about their business of stealing the last few bags of two-year-old Cheetos that are gathering dust back there.

What do you guys think?

I mean, besides that I'm getting cranky and maybe losing it, of course.