Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Unnecessary Confusion from Simple Questions

To wear my prosthetic antlers, I glue two pen caps to the side of my hat, then I place a twig in each one. Today the caps broke off my hat, so I went to a drugstore and asked an employee where the super glue was. The dull-witted girl responded, “What happened?” I explained to her that I had just asked her a question regarding the store’s placement of super glue. She smacked her gum and pointed to the back of aisle 3.

This was not the first time someone had asked me what happened after an inquiry. Had I startled them? Were they simply inexperienced in answering questions? I grew up speaking Elk (which is fairly easy if your lungs allow for loud shrieking) yet I understand when I’m being asked a question and do not need the situation explained to me. It seems that these people say, “What happened?” when they mean to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand what you just said.”

During a recent junket down south (I was temping at a turtle breeding company) I noticed a similar communication complication. When asking a slack-jawed youth which way the boiled peanut stand was, he replied, “Do wha-?” Puzzled, I said, “No my friend, I didn’t ask you to do anything, except tell me a direction.” He pointed up yonder.

English appears to have regional difficulties with simple clarification responses. Yet, if I’ve mastered the art of talking after being raised by elk, it makes me wonder what excuse these poor, confused people have. What happened, indeed.


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