Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Metaquestions

My friend Jim over at Jim's Stuff was asking questions yesterday. To be more specific, he was asking questions about questions. Handsome and inquisitive... that's hot.

One of the reasons I keep Urban Dictionary bookmarked is because I can often find words I need that ought to be in Webster's but aren't. At least not yet.

(The other reason I frequent Urban Dictionary — along with WikipediaIMDB and Wikizilla — is to decode StevieB's pop-culture references which I know must be hilarious, but often zip right over my head. This used to make me feel like this until I realized StevieB is sublimely this. Oops, wait... I mean this.)

I'm a big fan of meta-thinking, so Jim's post is right up my alley. I once got so overwhelmed by my to-do lists that I made a list of my lists. I called it my meta-list. Then I crashed for two days and forgot where I put it. Anyway, the questions Jim was asking were metaquestions; questions about questions. For example, why do people feel the need to ask if they can ask you a question?

      (Hey... did I just ask a meta-meta-question?)

            (Ooo, and what kind of question was that?)

I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. If you haven't heard a Yooper speak, just imagine a scene from "Fargo" or "Strange Brew", and you'd be close. Not exactly, but close. Yoopers have a habit of ending nearly every sentence with ", eh". For example:

   "I could eat pasties every day of da week, eh."

I'm not sure if "eh" is a word or just a sound, but it has the effect of turning the most straightforward, unequivocal statement into a question. I've always wondered, what drives our instinct to speak like this? Is it simply a way to add emphasis to what we said, or are we looking for affirmation?

Considering the instinctive response is, "You betcha, eh," I'm guessing the latter. You'll notice this response to the original statement-cum-question comes punctuated by its own verbalized pseudo-question mark, soliciting further affirmation. This results in social exchanges such as:
   "Cold out dair, eh."
      "You betcha, eh."
         "Ya, eh."
            "Worse den last year, eh!"
               "Oh ya think so, eh?"
                  "Fer sure, eh."
                     ...
I call this an "infinite yoop".

But my primary concern is this: how insecure do you have to be that you need affirmation for practically every thought you express to others?

I'm just grateful my college roommates helped train me to overcome my yooper speech characteristics with their persistent mockery and unrelenting ridicule. And I'm happy to say I no longer require this type of constant affirmation.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shout out. I didn't realize I was asking metaquestions; thanks for teaching me something today.

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  2. I'm more concerned that you could eat pasties all day.

    ReplyDelete