Thursday, September 20, 2007

Responding to a Loaded Gun

Here's a question that my friend Noel left for me. I thought to reproduce it in full so the context is clear to everyone.

"Great and educational blog, Prixie. Quick query: How should I respond to this - "Aren't you glad to see me?". If I respond in the affirmative, does this mean I'm not glad to see him/her? But if I respond in the negative, would I run the chance of being misunderstood? Or is the original question grammatically correct to begin with?"

Noel's question deals with another important branch of English which is logic. Although logic is not solely the property of English language learning, thinking and speaking logically are necessary for clear English communication. In this case, the error is not in grammar but in logic. In English, questions of that sort are known as loaded questions. Similar to facing a loaded gun (which is pretty sure to kill you), with a loaded question, you lose either way. Loaded questions already assume something negative to be true, which makes it very difficult for the respondent to come up with a good response. Another example is the question, "How long have you been cheating in my class?" (the questioner assumes the respondent is a cheat, giving the latter no room to defend him/herself).

Loaded questions are not generally grammatically incorrect. Instead, they're errors in logic which are also rude and hurtful. It's best not to ask them.

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