Any questions?

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Today's Dilbert picks up the theme of obtuse interpretation of quantifier domain restrictions, recently featured (less succinctly) here in "Shel Silverstein's hot dog and the domain of 'everything'" and "Dogless in Albion".


  1. Stan said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    Someone once arrived at my blog with the search string "Do ghosts make puddles?"

  2. Rube said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    I almost e-mailed this one in myself, but figured, "Nah, they'll be ahead of me."

    And I was right.

  3. Spell Me Jeff said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    I've been doing some admittedly shallow searching on topics like Grice and cooperative principle, and all I'm finding focuses on the role of the speaker. Surely there is work describing a "cooperative listener"?

    I realize that question could immediately leap into LitCrit, and there might be some relevance from that camp, but I'm really not interested in reliving my 20s at the moment. :)

  4. Svafa said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 12:55 pm

    This reminds me of when, a month or two ago, I was sending an email to a user about an issue's resolution (I work in IT, if you couldn't guess). In doing so, I ended the email with, "And if you need anything, let me know." They promptly replied to inform me that they could use a holiday, a pay raise, and several things besides. Thankfully, I had not foolishly committed myself, and so was able to inform them that while I could commiserate, I was regrettably unable to resolve their further issues.

  5. Jimbino said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 1:15 pm

    In checking out at places like Home Depot, I'm usually asked, "Did you find everything you needed?" To which I always reply, "No, I couldn't find a marguerita on the rocks."

  6. Toma said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

    This seems to be getting into colloquial expressions that when taken literally can be made into a joke. (Except when I told my 5-year-old that we were going to run to the store. He asked if we couldn't drive there instead.) So is this really "obtuse interpretation of quantifier domain restrictions" or just being obstinately literal?

  7. Theodore said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 2:54 pm

    This reminds me of the classic "Chumble Spuzz" Calvin & Hobbes strip. I guess the "any questions" theme is a common one in comics (Caulfield's questions in Frazz come immediately to mind.)

  8. Spell Me Jeff said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

    So is this really "obtuse interpretation of quantifier domain restrictions" or just being obstinately literal?

    Both? Meaning, the first is a species of the second. It's useful to subdivide these things in case different species manifest themselves in different ways.

  9. Spell Me Jeff said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 4:31 pm

    It is often pointed out that different "rules" apply to the spoken and written dialects of, say, English. E.g.:

    My brother is always on the phone
    In a spoken context, it would certainly be obtuse to ask if the brother is on the phone while he sleeps, craps, kayaks, etc.

    But I would find such a statement intolerable in printed material that is neither quoted nor humorous. As a consequence, when I grade student essays, I pounce.

    I wonder if it really matters.

  10. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    I once signed a form which included the words 'I undertake to inform the CIty Treasurer if anything changes'. Some friends of mine pointed out that this would involve rather a lot of work, but then reflected that I had not agreed to say what had changed; a daily message saying 'Something has changed' would be sufficient.

  11. Axl said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

    I think the "everything" in the Silverstein poem has the meaning of "anything" that is shared by the "any" used by Pointy-haired Boss. Which is why the poem doesn't go on forever.

  12. Eric P Smith said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

    @Andrew (not the same one): a daily message saying ‘Something has changed’ might be sufficient to meet the undertaking you gave on the form, but I bet it would not be sufficient to meet the underlying legal instrument of which the form gave an informal paraphrase!

  13. GeorgeW said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 7:25 pm

    Spell Me Jeff: "I would find such a statement intolerable in printed material that is neither quoted nor humorous. As a consequence, when I grade student essays, I pounce."

    I would guess that since pragmatic interpretations depend (by definition) on context that literal statements are more likely necessary in writing where context is not as apparent (without a lot of extra words).

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    September 22, 2011 @ 10:32 pm

    When the cashier at Trader Joe's (a bicoastal grocery store chain) asks me if I found everything I came for, I say "everything that TJ still sells". The cashiers always know just what I mean.

    (TJ's is notorious for dropping popular products.)

  15. Justice4Rinka said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 4:50 am

    Is this the same as the repeated gag in the Naked Gun movies?

    DREBIN: This man is hurt. We need to get him to a hospital right away.
    STOOGE: A hospital? What is it?
    DREBIN: It's a big building with lots of windows and doctors, but that's not important now.

  16. Bob Lieblich said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    I'm another one. When we hit the "any more questions" stage, I usually ask what's the capital of Lithuania. I've never yet had a correct response. When the question is "Is there anything more I can do for you," I usually respond "How about sending me a milllion dollars in small, unmarked bills?" Most people just roll with the punch, but I've had one or two rather forceful denials. You never know.

  17. Toma said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 11:25 am

    @ Justice4Rinka: I think that trope started in the Airplane movies. But it does seem to be another manifestation of the same thing.

  18. Spell Me Jeff said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    I've taught college kids for 26 years now. In almost every class session, whenever I cover a new topic (so sometimes multiple times per class), I throw out the standard, "Any questions about anything?"

    I can't remember the last time I got an obtuse response. Extremely rare.

  19. Michael Briggs said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

    Trader Joe's "bicoastal"? We have one right here in flyover country. (Wisconsin, the tricoastal state.)

  20. Jerry Friedman said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

    @Spell Me Jeff: I got "What is the meaning of life?" the other day, though these facetious questions are rare in general (maybe one a year or so, when a certain student isn't in my class).

  21. Faldone said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

    "What is the meaning of life?"

    Fourteen. of course.

  22. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

    Eric Smith: You may be right. But presumably the underlying legal instrument was also more specific about what changes I had to report, so removing the necessity of writing every day.

  23. GeorgeW said,

    September 23, 2011 @ 3:21 pm

    In concluding a classroom lecture, to ask, 'Are there any questions pertaining to what was discussed in today's class relevant to the course objectives specified in the syllabus for this semester' would, I think, violate Grice's Quantity Maxim.

  24. nbm said,

    September 25, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

    I am reminded of Sister Mary Ignatius, who when asked, "Doesn't God answer all prayers?" responds, "Certainly, but sometimes God's answer is No."

  25. Eliza Renal said,

    September 26, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

    @Jerry Does that mean your classes are comprised of uncertain students? :p

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